EDF Health

A Columnist Wonders: Can Congress Do Its Job?

Jack Pratt is Chemicals Campaign Director

“It’s not that members of Congress don’t work hard…yet they regularly manage to avoid accomplishing anything even on those matters on which they overwhelmingly agree,” observed Melinda Hennebergert this morning in Bloomberg Politics.

She was talking, in part, about the new bill to reform America’s broken chemical safety law. Everyone agrees the current system is a national disgrace, preventing the EPA from banning even known carcinogens like asbestos. Yet there’s fierce opposition to the only legislative vehicle that could successfully change things.

Hennebergert notes that some opponents to the bill, which has co-sponsors across the ideological and partisan spectrum, object to the fact that it is a compromise necessary to pass Congress. She calls it the “half-a-loaf or none conundrum” and says that “in the increasingly rare cases of bipartisan agreement, paralyzing pushback” now seems inevitable.

Her frustration is clear, especially since “it has already been 26 years since any environmental bill of this magnitude (1990's Clean Air Act) has passed.”

She notes that some opponents of the bill favor alternative legislation – a bill without bipartisan sponsors or the compromises necessary to gain traction. It’s an all or nothing approach and, with it, “nothing is just what citizens may get.”

The question is, can Congress prove her wrong and get something big done to protect public health and the environment?

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

Bipartisanship is not a dirty word

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is 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| Read 1 Response

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

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is 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.


 Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF VoicesTwitter and Facebook.

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

EPA rolls out its redesigned labels under the newly minted Safer Choice Program

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Today, the EPA Design for the Environment Program (DfE) Safer Choice program (formerly, the safer product labeling program) unveiled its newly redesigned family of three product labels. The voluntary Safer Choice program seeks to recognize and bring consumer awareness to those products whose chemical ingredients represent the safest among those within a particular chemical functional class (e.g., solvents). Today’s milestone is the result of a public process led by the EPA DfE program to solicit feedback on a new label that better communicates the goals and purpose of the program. After more than a year, and 1,700 comments and six consumer focus groups later, the new labels will be arriving soon to a store shelf near you. Read on to learn more about the program and the label redesign effort.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Markets and Retail| Tagged , | Comments are closed

Evidence mounts on BPA’s adverse effects on human health

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a high production volume chemical that is used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.  It is commonly found in food and beverage packaging, such as plastic bottles and the lining of food cans, as well as thermal paper receipts (see our previous blog).  BPA is widely-recognized as an endocrine-disrupting chemical, meaning that it can alter the normal functioning of the body’s hormonal system.  Hundreds of studies have been published associating BPA exposure with health effects, ranging from cancer to obesity to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Data from the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) show that nearly all people tested have BPA in their bodies.

Despite a plethora of data, numerous calls for action (for example, see here, here and here), and comprehensive regulation in France, it does not seem that national regulation of BPA in food packaging in the U.S. will be happening any time soon.  The official position of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is that, while BPA exhibits endocrine-disrupting properties at high doses, it is safe at the current levels occurring in food.  Although the FDA banned the use of BPA-based materials in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula packaging in 2012, FDA said it based this action on changes in the market, rather than safety concerns.

In the fall of 2014, FDA completed a four-year review of the literature, including more than 300 scientific studies, and concluded that the information does not “prompt a revision of FDA’s safety assessment of BPA in food packaging at this time.”

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently followed suit with their announcement that BPA does not pose a health risk to consumers, including children, at current exposure levels.  (This is in contrast to the action of several EU member states, which have banned BPA in food contact materials for children under 3 years of age over the past few years.)

Meanwhile, scientists continue to churn out studies linking low-level BPA exposure to a variety of health effects.  In this post, we discuss several new studies.   Read More »

Posted in Emerging Science, Health Science| Tagged , | Comments are closed

Getting under the surfac-tants: EDF comments support EPA regulations to limit their risks

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

Today EDF submitted comments supporting EPA’s proposal to limit the use of two groups of toxic chemicals that have historically been widely used as, or to make, surfactants in consumer and commercial cleaning products.  The chemicals, nonylphenols (NPs) and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), are produced in high volumes for a variety of industrial uses and consumer products, some of which have led to widespread water pollution.  The chemicals are highly toxic to aquatic organisms, and also pose significant potential human health risks.

In October, EPA proposed a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) for these chemicals that would require any company intending to begin manufacture or import of these chemicals to notify EPA prior to doing so, thereby allowing EPA to evaluate the risks associated with the proposed use of the chemical and to take action if appropriate.

SNURs are one of the few regulatory tools that EPA has to seek to restrict the use of chemicals under the nation’s outdated chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

While EDF’s comments generally support EPA’s proposed rule, they also raise some concerns.  Some highlights of our comments are described below.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science| Tagged , , | Comments are closed
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