One year and counting: On its first anniversary, near-term threats abound to implementation of our strong new chemical safety law

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

This week marks the first birthday of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemicals Safety for the 21st Century Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on June 22, 2016, after passing the Senate and House with overwhelming bipartisan support.

If balance is lost to short-term priorities of the new Administration and the chemical industry, the common ground so many of us fought for and found to support last year’s historic passage of the Lautenberg Act will quickly dissipate.

The Lautenberg Act significantly overhauled and substantially improved the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the core provisions of which had never been amended since their adoption in 1976.  Among the enhancements are new provisions that:

  • mandate safety reviews for chemicals in active commerce;
  • require safety findings for new chemicals before they are allowed on the market;
  • replace TSCA’s burdensome safety standard — which prevented the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even from banning asbestos — with a pure, health-based safety standard;
  • explicitly require protection of vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women and workers;
  • give EPA enhanced authority to require testing of both new and existing chemicals;
  • make more information about chemicals available, by limiting companies’ ability to claim information as confidential, and by giving states and health and environmental professionals access to confidential information they need to do their jobs; and
  • retain a significant role for states in assuring chemical safety, while strengthening the federal role.

Passage of the Lautenberg Act was made possible by the coming-together of members of both parties and a broad spectrum of stakeholders around two facts:  the old law wasn’t working for anyone, and a stronger federal chemicals management system was needed to restore lost confidence among the public and in the marketplace over the safety of chemicals.

At the one-year mark, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) remains confident that the law is strong and can and will ultimately deliver on its promises.  At the same time, its effective implementation in the near term is threatened on numerous fronts, unfolding as it is in one of the most anti-environmental and anti-regulatory climates this nation has faced in a long time.   Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lead in food – An overlooked, but meaningful, source of children’s exposure to lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

By now, it is well known that lead exposure is a significant human health concern, especially for young children. While most of the discussion about lead exposure has involved paint, drinking water, and contaminated soil or dust where young children live, play, and learn, EDF's new report shows reason to pay more attention to another source: our food.

Until recently, we have known very little about the contribution of food to children’s lead exposure. In January 2017, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft report indicated that food is a meaningful source of children’s exposure to lead. Using EPA’s data, we estimated that over 1 million young children consume more lead than what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers acceptable for children to eat every day. From EPA’s analysis, we calculated that  that if lead in food were eliminated, millions of children would live healthier lives, and the total societal economic benefit would exceed $27 billion a year in increased lifetime earnings resulting from the impact of lead on children’s IQ.

To better understand the issue of lead in food, EDF evaluated over a decade’s worth of data collected and analyzed by the FDA as part of the agency’s Total Diet Study (TDS). Since the 1970s, the TDS has tracked metals, pesticides, and nutrients in up to 280 types of food yearly.

What did we find?

Overall, 20% of 2,164 baby food samples and 14% of the other 10,064 food samples had detectable levels of lead. At least one sample in 52 of the 57 types of baby food analyzed by FDA had detectable levels of lead in it. Lead was most commonly found in the following baby foods:

  • Fruit juices: 89% of 44 grape juice samples contained detectable levels of lead, mixed fruit (67% of 111 samples), apple (55% of 44 samples), and pear (45% of 44 samples)
  • Root vegetables: Sweet potatoes (86% of 44 samples) and carrots (43% of 44 samples)
  • Cookies: Arrowroot cookies (64% of 44 samples) and teething biscuits (47% of 43 samples)

Read More »

Posted in FDA, Food, lead, Uncategorized| Tagged | Leave a comment

Pace and outcomes of EPA new chemical reviews appear to be on track

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday updated its website to provide a current snapshot of the status of new chemical reviews it has been conducting under last year’s amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  The statistics show that, despite being faced immediately with a substantial increase in responsibilities and workload as a result of the major changes made to TSCA, EPA has made enormous progress in implementing the new requirements.

Because the changes made by the Lautenberg Act to TSCA’s new chemicals program were both extensive and immediately effective upon enactment, a temporary backlog developed while EPA implemented the new requirements in reviewing both chemicals that were under review at the time of the law’s passage and those that came in subsequently.

Yesterday's announcement and the related statistics indicate that the backlog has markedly declined since January, falling from 300 to below 150 cases.  In a press release EPA says it is committed to eliminating the backlog entirely by July.

Equally important in the statistics is the fact that many more chemicals are being subject to orders imposing conditions on their commercialization, relative to the old law:  For about half of the reviews completed to date, EPA has issued a consent order.  This is to be expected:  The new law requires EPA to issue such orders whenever it either lacks sufficient information to evaluate a new chemical, or makes a risk- or exposure-based finding that indicates potential concern.  In such cases, the orders must impose conditions sufficient to mitigate the concern.

Yesterday’s announcement is welcome.  EPA needs to stay the course.  And the chemical industry needs to recognize that restoring public and market confidence in our chemical safety system requires a robust new chemicals program.

Posted in Health Policy, Regulation, TSCA Reform| Tagged , | Comments are closed

Another tragic death — time for EPA to ban high-risk chemical paint strippers

Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager.  

A few weeks ago, a 21-year-old man tragically passed away after being overcome by chemical fumes while refinishing a bathtub.  The young man was working for a small painting business in Tennessee.  His death is currently being investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), but is suspected to have been caused by methylene chloride exposure.  If confirmed, this would add to the dozens of reported deaths caused by the chemical’s use in paint stripping products over the past several decades.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has within its grasp the ability to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again. In January, EPA proposed to ban methylene chloride in paint and coating removal products – including those used for bathtub refinishing, and is considering a ban on such use of another highly toxic chemical called N-methylpyrrolidone.  The agency based its proposal on an extensive assessment of the scientific literature, which demonstrated not only lethal risks from acute methylene chloride exposure but also other health impacts from both short- and long-term exposure to both chemicals.

Products containing these chemicals are available at hardware and other retail stores across the country, and unless EPA acts promptly to finalize a ban, there will surely be more avoidable deaths and other health impacts due to use of high-risk chemical paint strippers.  In EDF’s recent comments to EPA, we strongly urged it to finalize these bans as soon as possible to protect public health.  EPA should not wait for another reason to take action.

Posted in EPA, Regulation| Tagged , | Read 1 Response

Podcast: You Make Me Sick! Nature-rich lives and the future of environmentalism

For this month’s episode of You Make Me Sick, we broke from our usual discussion of things that might harm your health to talk about an exposure that might help your health. Specifically we talked with journalist and advocate Richard Louv about the ways in which exposure to green spaces can affect your health. Mr. Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle and founder of the non-profit Children and Nature Network, sat down with us to discuss the need to design nature rich lives and the future of environmentalism.

Want more? Subscribe to us on iTunes or Google Play, or check out our SoundCloud to listen via desktop! [Image credit Francisco Anzola]

Posted in Health Science| Tagged | Comments are closed

Toxic secrets in our food? EDF joins in lawsuit aimed at protecting food safety

Today, Environmental Defense Fund joined other groups in challenging a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule that allows chemical and food manufacturers to decide for themselves – in secret – what chemicals and food additives can be added to foods. The practice puts our health at risk and does not fulfill Congress’ requirement that FDA determine that chemical additives are safe before they can be used in food.

Americans would be shocked to learn that food companies routinely add novel chemicals to our food without first getting FDA approval. In doing so, the companies are exploiting a loophole exempting ingredients “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) from formal FDA review and approval.

Originally intended for ingredients like vinegar and olive oil, industry now abuses the GRAS loophole by bypassing FDA review and making safety determinations in secret. The alarming result: even FDA does not know what is in our food. In fact, FDA has no way to know what chemicals are actually being used in which food or in what quantities—even in baby food.

Last year, the FDA issued a final rule formalizing this outrageous practice. We described this decision as a lost opportunity for safer food additives when the decision was made. Today, EDF and our colleagues at the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Environmental Working Group, represented by CFS and the environmental law firm Earthjustice, joined in filing suit against the FDA for unconstitutionally and illegally delegating that authority to self-interested food and chemical manufacturers.

It is disappointing that the groups were forced to take legal action. In addition to being a bad policy that doesn’t comply with law, or protect public health, the FDA is oddly out of touch with public sentiment. Just last week an industry funded survey showed overwhelming consumer concern about chemicals in food, including cancer causing chemicals, while showing diminished confidence in the food supply. This continues a trend that has been building for years. Food companies would be wise to take notice: adding secret chemicals without FDA scientific review to our food is no way to improve confidence in their products.

But with thousands of secret chemicals in our food, we can’t wait for industry or FDA to wise up. Today’s lawsuit seeks to force FDA to do what should be common sense—determine that food additives are safe before they can be added to our food.

Posted in FDA, Food, GRAS, Uncategorized| Tagged , | Comments are closed
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