What an honor

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

After 30 years in Washington, maybe I should be more jaded, but today was a big day. Not only did I have the incredible honor this morning of meeting with President Obama, but it was just prior to getting to witness his signing of a bill that I think is going to make a big difference in our lives.

When I started working on and with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) some 15 years ago and began trying to help build the case for its reform, never in a million years did I contemplate such an honor, let alone being able to work so closely on and then witness the historic signing of this strong new law.

The small group that met with the President included not only people in Washington who worked for this reform but also those who have been impacted by our broken law or stand to benefit the most from the new law:  Young adults and parents of children who have had chronic diseases and conditions like cancer and autism for which there is growing concern about the contribution of chemical exposures.  

Having been in the weeds and minutiae of TSCA reform for so long, it was very moving that the President chose to meet directly with people that this whole reform effort is most about:  The millions of Americans who worry about whether the products they use are safe for them and their families, and those left to wonder whether chemical exposures are to blame for a disease or condition they or their loved ones contract.

I came to work on TSCA somewhat indirectly.  I spent a lot of the 1990s working with consumer product companies trying to develop tools their formulators could use to assess the health and environmental impacts of the chemicals they were using or considering using in their products.  Repeatedly we found that the data they needed to make better choices were almost always lacking. That’s when I started realizing that our weak chemical safety law bore much of the blame for the lack of information available in the market about most chemicals.

I also came to believe that, in part because of a broken TSCA that never required a government review of chemicals, product companies lacked incentives to ensure the safety of the chemicals in their products by developing data on potential chronic health concerns.  (Short-term concerns are typically considered because of product liability.)

One of my main hopes with the revised law is that it will shift the incentive structure companies face towards one that rewards affirmative evidence of safety instead of ignorance (a theme that goes back to EDF’s 1997 report, Toxic Ignorance). And, in turn, that the public will be better protected from the long-term health impacts of untested and unregulated chemicals.

As we all now turn to the challenging task of implementing this new law, I am optimistic that we’ve turned a corner as a nation and are embarking on a new path to better protecting the health of this and future generations. And I’m humbled to have been able to thank the President on behalf of the hundreds of friends and colleagues with whom I’ve worked on this effort over the years.

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One Comment

  1. Justin Johnson
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all your work Richard. I was happy to have a brief role in all this.