A glimmer of good news flowing from the Gulf’s other recent disaster

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

I’ve been blogging for some weeks now about how we may be compounding the problems of the BP oil disaster through our massive use of inadequately tested and ineffective dispersants.  There’s an eerie echo in these events to the compounding effects of decisions made in the wake of the Gulf region’s last major disaster, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina: specifically, the decision to house victims forced out of their homes in trailers made from imported plywood that exposed them to toxic levels of formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen.

In what I choose to regard as a silver lining arising from this earlier debacle, the U.S. Congress is finally – nearly five years later – inching toward passing legislation that seeks to prevent a repeat of that episode, by putting limits on how much formaldehyde can be emitted from imported and domestically manufactured pressed wood products. 

This week the Senate unanimously passed, by voice vote, S. 1660, “An act to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act to reduce the emissions of formaldehyde from composite wood products, and for other purposes.”  The lead cosponsors of the bill were Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Michael Crapo (R-ID).

A counterpart bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 4805, introduced by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), passed the Energy and Commerce Committee in May and is expected to be voted on in the next week or two.

There is another connection between the formaldehyde and dispersants episodes worth noting:  Both problems point to fundamental flaws in our nation’s main chemical safety statute, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  In testimony I gave in the House last year, I described EPA’s inability to use its authority under TSCA to do what the Senate and House bills would now do – by amending TSCA to give EPA the needed authority.

Of course, as welcome as they are, these bills address only one use of one toxic chemical.

Just last week, I joined several other scientists on a teleconference sponsored by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition to highlight how TSCA has failed to require the testing, disclosures and demonstration of safety that could have answered the myriad questions and concerns now surfacing because of the unprecedented scale of use of dispersants to address the BP oil disaster.  The coalition has called on Congress to include provisions in TSCA reform legislation that would specifically correct these deficiencies.

My hope is that, in the wake of these national disasters, another silver lining will soon emerge:  passage of strong legislation to overhaul this outmoded and ineffective law so that it truly protects all Americans and our environment from toxic chemicals.

Join us as we press for real reform:

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One Comment

  1. Bruce Johnson
    Posted June 18, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    From my Blog on http://www.sname.org

    Update 17 June: Slippery Start: U.S. Response to Spill Falters
    What is not discussed: the current lesser of evils approach trading water pollution for air polution from massive burns. Why can’t we find enough storage capacity on shuttle tankers and barges to contain the skimmed oil without having to burn it?

    Update 15 June: Media matters for America gives a weak response “15 foreign-flagged vessels are involved” in the response to the oil spill:
    Of course, since most of the Transocean vessels are foreign-flagged including the rig that exploded.
    It is past time for the “deciders” to know the number and storage capacity of the oil skimmer vessels being used and what percentage of the daily leak rate is or could be skimmed by these vessels.