Author Archives: Richard Denison

Bipartisanship is not a dirty word

Richard Denison, a Lead Senior Scientist.

The lead editorial in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican pushes back against the grossly unfair criticism of Senator Tom Udall because he is backing critically needed legislation to reform our nation’s nearly 40-year-old chemical safety law.

The editorial is an island of sanity in a sea of hyperbolic partisan rhetoric unleashed this week against the strongly bipartisan Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.  As the editorial makes clear, Senator Udall deserves the lion’s share of the credit for negotiating over the past two years to secure major concessions from the chemical industry and greatly improve the public health protections in this legislation.  A testament to that success is the fact that 7 other Democratic Senators joined Senator Udall as original cosponsors of the bill right out of the gates, and many more are seriously looking at it.

Read the editorial to see for yourself why, despite all the noise out there about this bill, it’s a good thing Senator Udall has done.

Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| 1 Response

Bi-Partisan Chemical Safety Bill Introduced to Strengthen Protections Against Health Risks

Richard Denison, a Lead Senior Scientist.

Environmental Defense Fund issued the following press release in response to today's introduction of The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act [UPDATE:  The bill number is S. 697].  We have also prepared an accompanying factsheet and detailed bill analysis.


Bi-Partisan Chemical Safety Bill
Creates Strong New Protections Against Hidden Health Threats

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act Would Overhaul Weak Federal Law, Provide New Powers to Require Safety of All Chemicals

(Washington DC, March 10, 2015)—Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA), together with seven Democratic and eight Republican cosponsors introduced legislation today to fix a badly broken system that is currently failing to protect Americans against thousands of untested or hazardous chemicals used in all kinds of everyday products, from cleaning products, to clothing, to couches.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act would overhaul the nearly 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s primary federal chemical safety law, establishing strong new protections to ensure the safety of chemicals in everyday products. Certain common chemicals are linked to cancer, infertility, diabetes, Parkinson's and other illnesses. Pregnant woman, infants, and children are especially vulnerable. Under the current law, Americans are exposed to thousands of chemicals every day, only a small fraction of which have ever been adequately reviewed for safety. TSCA is so badly broken that EPA is virtually powerless to restrict even known deadly carcinogens such as asbestos.

Fred Krupp, President of Environmental Defense Fund, said:

“Americans shouldn’t have to worry whether chemicals in their homes pose a threat to their families. With lawmakers coming together from both sides of the aisle, this is the best chance in a generation for us to move past an obsolete and badly broken law to provide strong protections for all Americans. We look forward to working with Senator Udall, the environmental community and other stakeholders to get the strongest bill possible enacted into law. Congress cannot afford to let this historic opportunity slip from its grasp. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to seize the moment and act."

The new legislation would update the current law and give EPA the tools it needs to ensure the safety of chemicals and significantly strengthen health protections for American families. Notably, the bill:

  • Mandates safety reviews for all chemicals in active commerce
  • Requires a safety finding for new chemicals before they can enter the market
  • Replaces TSCA’s burdensome cost-benefit safety standard—which prevented EPA from banning asbestos—with a pure, health-based safety standard
  • Explicitly requires protection of vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women
  • Gives EPA enhanced authority to require testing of both new and existing chemicals
  • Sets aggressive, judicially enforceable deadlines for EPA decisions
  • Makes 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
  • Provides for the payment of fees by companies to ensure EPA has the resources to carry out its responsibilities
  • Ramps up the number of chemicals undergoing safety assessments from an initial 10 to at least 25 chemicals, after all procedures and fees are in place to support the increased level of work

The new legislation is nearly two years in the making and is built on a bill introduced by the late New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and Senator David Vitter in 2013. Negotiations have yielded hundreds of improvements to the original bill.

The new bill significantly reduces the earlier proposal’s preemption of state laws:  All state actions taken before 2015 remain intact regardless of subsequent EPA actions. Even after enactment, states can act to restrict a chemical until and unless EPA takes up that same chemical and addresses the same uses. State actions that do not restrict a chemical’s production, distribution or use, or are taken to address a different problem are not affected. No preemption attaches to low-priority designations of a chemical by EPA.

“After nearly four decades under a failed law, this legislation would finally provide EPA with the tools it needs to better protect American families,” said Dr. Richard Denison, Lead Senior Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund. “Rare political circumstances have opened a narrow window to pass meaningful reform that protects the health of American families.  It’s essential Congress act now.”

In addition to Sens. Udall and Vitter, original cosponsors include (seven Democrats and eight  Republicans): Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV); Jim Inhofe (R-OK); Tom Carper (D-DE); Roy Blunt (R-MO); Chris Coons (D-DE); John Boozman (R-AR); Joe Donnelly (D-IN); Mike Crapo (R-ID); Martin Heinrich (D-NM); Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV); Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND); John Hoeven (R-ND); Rob Portman (R-OH), Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Additional resources can be found on EDF’s website, including a factsheet and a detailed bill analysis.


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Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Comments are closed

EPA IRIS program requests conflict-of-interest disclosures by commenters

Richard Denison, a Lead Senior Scientist.  Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst

EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) is now requesting that persons who make oral comments at its bimonthly meetings or submit written comments on its documents disclose whether they have “financial relationships … with any organization(s) or entities having an interest in the assessments or issues under discussion,” and, if so, to identify the nature of that relationship, (e.g., consulting agreements, expert witness support, or research funding).   Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence| Tagged , | Comments are closed

Whither TSCA reform post-election?

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

[This post is adapted from comments I gave at a recent Friday Forum hosted by the American Bar Association’s Pesticides, Chemical Regulation and Right-to-Know Committee.]

Elections change some things and don’t change others.  That is certainly true about what happened on Nov 4.

The best election recap I’ve heard came from a hairdresser I overhead when getting my hair cut last week.  She said:  “Democrats win, I have to work; Republicans win, I have to work.”

I doubt anyone would try to argue that the election was in any way about or directly relevant to the TSCA reform debate, or even any sort of more general referendum on the environment.  My view is that it wasn’t really even much about political parties and which one controls the Senate – it was more of a “throw the bums out and let some new ones have a try” election.

On the other hand, it was about broad and deep dissatisfaction of voters with the inability of Washington to get anything meaningful done.  That is relevant to the opportunity the TSCA reform issue presents to the new Congress, which is one of a handful of issues that seems to have the potential to show voters that something can get done.

There is also no question that the dynamics that have determined for some time the pace and direction of the TSCA reform debate changed significantly with the switch to Republican control of the Senate. That brings with it new political opportunities and challenges.

But what I want to talk mostly about is what HASN’T changed.  Read More »

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

EDF’s recommendations for IRIS conflicts-of-interest disclosures, and the strong precedents for them

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.  Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst

Our last blog post was quite lengthy and some readers may not have gotten to the recommendations we provided to EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) governing disclosures of conflicts of interest.  In that post, we also cited the numerous strong precedents for requiring such disclosures.

So we’re reposting here our recommendations and discussion of precedents.   Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence| Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Time to come clean: IRIS needs to require stakeholders attending its meetings to disclose their conflicts of interest

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.  Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.  

EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) has been implementing a number of changes in the last couple of years, in response to criticism and concerns coming at it from all sides.  As stated on its website:  “These enhancements will improve productivity and scientific quality in IRIS assessments and help EPA meet the goal of producing IRIS assessments in a timely and transparent manner.”  IRIS has noted that increasing “stakeholder engagement is an essential part of the enhancements.”

Simultaneously pursuing these lofty goals of increasing throughput, scientific quality, transparency and stakeholder engagement in IRIS assessments is challenging, to say the least.  EDF has and will continue to emphasize the need to strike a balance between these goals, given that overemphasis on one can actually exacerbate the problems aimed to be addressed by another.

In this somewhat lengthy post, we’ll examine one such serious problem – skewed participation in IRIS’ bimonthly meetings.  We’ll look at steps EPA has taken to partially address the problem, and argue that the lack of adequate disclosure by participants of conflicts of interest remains a major unaddressed contributing factor.  We’ll discuss our recommendations for full disclosure and point to the strong precedents for such disclosures in other venues.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence| Tagged , , | Comments are closed
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