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Taking on Toxic Chemicals With the Right Tool

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15 October 2009, 12:00 PM
EPA chief asks Congress for new law to protect public from toxic threats

Suppose I asked you to drive a nail into the wall and then handed you a banana to do it. At best you'd make a mess of it—the same mess faced by the Environmental Protection Agency when it comes to keeping the public safe from toxic chemicals. Right job, wrong tool.

Congress handed the EPA a banana in 1976 called the Toxic Substances Control Act, a law that EPA chief Lisa Jackson herself recently described as "an inadequate tool for providing the protection against chemical risks that the public rightfully expects." The numbers bear her out: EPA has required safety testing of only 200 of the roughly 82,000 chemicals registered for use under TSCA. These are chemicals in products that we all encounter every day, from household cleaners to cell phones, toys, carpets and food containers. The result is more potentially hazardous chemicals in our bodies than ever before.

Recognizing this tremendous failure to protect the public, Jackson is asking Congress for a hammer.

The tools she says EPA needs to keep toxic chemicals off the shelves—unveiled in a recent speech at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club—are based on pure common sense. Chemicals should be proven safe before they are approved for use in products, and the burden of conducting studies and proving safety should be on chemical manufacturers, not government. If industry can't scientifically demonstrate a chemical's safety, it should not be allowed on the market.

Remarkably, current law doesn't work that way. TSCA's lax requirements for safety data translate to precious little assurance that even commonly used chemicals won't harm us or our children. In more than 30 years, EPA has banned only five chemicals, and a court overturned its ban on asbestos.

This is all the more troubling given evidence of infants with more chemicals in their bodies than bones. Jackson noted in her speech that "a 2005 study found 287 different chemicals in the cord blood of 10 newborn babies—chemicals from pesticides, fast food packaging, coal and gasoline emissions, and trash incineration… Our kids are getting steady infusions of industrial chemicals before we even give them solid food."

We all deserve better. That's why Earthjustice attorneys will soon argue a case in New York state court that aims to get household cleaning manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive to disclose the names and health effects of chemicals in their cleaning products, so that consumers have access to the information they need to protect themselves and their families.

It's also critical to address the disproportionate impact of toxics on communities of color. We recently moderated a forum at the Congressional Black Caucus on the failure of TSCA to protect communities of color, which featured several environmental justice and labor leaders from around the country, to increase awareness of the need for TSCA reform among this important Congressional contingent.

As scientific evidence mounts of connections between the prevalence of chemicals in our environment and chronic diseases like asthma, autism, diabetes and certain cancers, it's clear that we need strong new federal laws now. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) are expected to soon introduce companion bills to reform TSCA. When they do, we can all tell Congress to give EPA the hammer it needs to deal with toxic chemicals.

Well done! Thank you very much for professional templates and community edition

We have been using the steam cleaner, it does the job of cleaning around the house without any chemicals. We look to see what is safe to use such as sulfate free shampoo...etc but we can't do anything about the dangers we face with the natural gas industry.

Our greatest fear from toxic chemicals now rests in exempted air, water and soil activities done by the natural gas industry. This is the only industry which can legally pollute the environment with fracturing chemicals known to be carcinogenic and related to endocrine disorders yet EPA's hands were tied due to a falsified study in 2005 stating fracturing chemicals used in gas drilling are safe to use. The government intentionallly gave the natural gas industry exemptions in water, air and soil. Type in a search: natural gas industry exemptions
Go to this site to see what those chemicals do to humans:

The safe drinking water act protects public water supplies... but what you aren't told is the fact that water treatment centers are guaranteed to protect you against the fracturing chemicals. People didn't know a few years ago toxic chemicals were being used in the drilling process but the internet has shown them how the government knew they were used, the government had a plan to keep using them in new horizontal fracking operations and exempted the toxic chemicals from water testing which would protect private corporations. The government chose not to protect humans, wildlife and aquatic life.

Check out the toxic air emissions from natural gas you know how many tons of VOCS and NOx are released into the air which can travel over 200 miles away? Methane is released regularly at the gas processing plants which the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas and guess what? The natural gas industry has generous exemptions because the money is more important than human lives.

Folks, you need to add the natural gas industry as tops when it comes to toxic pollution concerns for your loved ones. Thousands have died in the past and never knew about this toxic industry. Many more are going to die unless green technology is used for drilling or liquid nitrogen. Why not capture those methane emissions and save our ozone?

There must be a better way to produce the nonrenewable natural gas fossil fuel than destroy the environment and kill citizens for corporate ventures.

EPA recently came out with a gas drilling hotline called: "Eyes on drilling". Are they really interested in protecting the environment and saving human lives? Time will tell as we wait to see if they will include fracturing chemicals in the SDWA for both public and private drinking water supplies. Will this be another EPA study which won't have a whistle blower to say the study was a scam? Big money can buy almost anything....which kills others for their benefits.

No scientific studies have been done to show those fracturing chemicals are safe.
Do you live near natural gas drilling activities?
What is in your drinking water whether you live in the city or rural areas?
Do you know that no one is testing your drinking water for fracturing chemicals?
Do you know no one is testing your water private or public because the natural gas industry enjoys numerous exemptions including using toxic chemicals which can seep into your glass of water?

Take a look around your neighborhood. How far are you from a natural gas processing plant or compressor station? Is there natural gas drilling in your neighborhood? It is time to study the term: fracturing chemicals and endocrine disruptions

The author favors burdening the industry with establishing safety of its merchandise as regards exposure to toxic substances. While seemingly 'just', it is unrealistic to expect the industry to accept the onus of demonstrating product safety. They have no financial incentive to conduct studies inimical to their bottomline, much less reveal them. Revealing risks posed by various chemicals in products only serves to sensitize consumers against purchasing the product. Clearly, no industry would buy in to such a regulation. Besides, there are many factors affecting risk - the safety/risk threshold specific to the particular combination of chemicals found in each product, age, current and prior exposure, pre-existing diseases, and on and on - that vary from person to person, and for which reason are impractical and unrealistic to measure and record.

In this context, reviewing product liability laws is possibly a more practical alternative, particularly with regard to toxics that affect the foetus, children in their growing years, pregnant women, lactating mothers and the aged. While unlimited liability is likely to induce firms to reconsider use of 'unsafe' chemicals in its products, it could also dissuade them from marketing those products, reducing competition and 'consumer utility'. The ease of bankruptcy declaration and the protection afforded under bankruptcy could potentially undermine efforts to wield the product liability 'card'. Unfortunately, playing the liability card also plays in to the legal maze that has obstructed and stymied many a regulatory initiatives - both during and post-promulgation.

Another real issue concerning TSCA is how one discriminates between higher-quality, higher-priced products that are relatively safe, from low-priced, often imported, products that pose significant danger to the consumer. The TSCA must ensure that its prescription does not gloss over the very real link between household income and the quality of products purchased, and in turn, exposure to toxics. (Ironically, it is the government that picks up the health tab for low-priced, 'dangerous' imports when low-income colored/minority community consumers suffer toxic exposure and need medical care).

Regulating trade in consumer products that fall under the purview of TSCA is yet another 'thorn-in-the-flesh'. The government must walk the fine line between ensuring competition on one hand, and, charges of obstruction of trade and protecting the health of its citizens on the other. Trade-related subsidies and taxes have the potential to skew the manufacturer's decisions as regards product quality and chemical constitution.

ps: Cosmetics are excluded from TSCA, but included elsewhere?

Revealing risks posed by various chemicals in products only serves to sensitize consumers against purchasing the product.

Very true. But if they REFUSE to test and disclose, this consumer will buy another product, by a company that does disclose, and has reformulated for better safety. Either way, fighting the lawsuit hurts their bottom line.

Here's a novel thought - reformulate, or develop new products, using ingredients that have already been demonstrated to be less toxic, or non-toxic. Advertise the "newer, safer, greener" products, and see their bottom line improve. Winning by being responsible - what a concept!

n't Charlie Christ Your Governor? How about writing a letter to him?

The amount of toxins and pesticidesfound in newborns, to me, constitutes genocide. The lack of control of toxic chemicals, I believe, contributes to poor health and increased health care costs.

Once more, corporations and their bottom line are given precedence over quality of life. Something is wrong with this picture!!

People First!! Not corporations.

Has anyone read about CCP - - also known as Carbonless Copy Paper, NCR, etcc?

NIOSH released a report ("short version" ) on the toxicity of CCP. Out of approximately 2500 pages, only about 132 pages were published.

After I was diagnosed with chemical encephalopathy due to - ONE SINGLE TOXIC SUBSTANCE in CCP, I tried to obtain the Materia Safetyl Data Sheets for CCP to find out how many other toxic substances we Americans are exposed to WITHOUT KNOWING.

I had filed a complaint with OSHA, and they made a visit to my employer's business - - of course my employer was notified several days in advance giving them time to prepare or get rid of any evidence. OSHA found unsafe levels of formaldehyde in the office, and issue my employer a citation.

After the citation I appealed to OSHA for the MSD Sheets denied by my employer, and OSHA said that the manufacturer is not required to provide MSDS for CCP, because NCR - - the original owners of the patent and manufacture - - REGISTERED THE PRODUCT AS AN ARTICLE. I am sure NCR LOBBIED (OR BRIBED SOMEONE) so that CCP could be registered AS AN ARTICLE - - such as a dress, a shirt, some shoes, etc, INSTEAD OF WHAT IT IS - - A PRODUCT. A PRODUCT that contains over 1000 toxic substances which enter our blood stream via skin and airways.

Two or three years ago, I was also told that I have SYSTEMIC SCLEROSIS, due to the SOLVENTS in the CCP.

If you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and have had some kind of cancer, like Lymphoma, and you worked with CCP, chances are your CTS, cancer, TMJDS, Sjogren's (dry mouth, eyes, nose), and other conditions associated with Systemic Sclerosis, are the result of your toxic exposure.


It is all very well to demand safety testing of chemicals but consider the huge army of animals that will be involved in proving the toxicity of these chemicals. The US is already a leader in animal cruelty with unnamed horrors occurring behind the lab doors. This is idea is only adding to their number.

Consider: (1) The toxicity of many chemicals is already known, and should be on a "don't use list", (2) with regard to chemicals of unknown toxicity, is it better to just let human beings become very ill and/or die than use animals in a most humane way, and (3) don't forget that thousands of human beings are subjected to toxic chemicals in clinical trials every year in an attempt to save their lives when all else fails.

Finally! I've wondered for years why the EPA was so absolutely inadequate when it would seem only common sense that these chemicals have something to do with the rise of cancer, autism and many other diseases that the public currently faces.

The medical industry appears only to be looking into "cures" (or expensive procedures that nearly kill you and have very little chance of success) rather than at removing the substances that cause these diseases from our environment, sustenance and daily products.

Thank god EarthJustice is here to fight this cause and kudos to our new EPA chief Lisa Jackson! Thank you President Obama for appointing this wonderful woman.

EPA has taken some steps to stop the pollution of our waters and yet this week there is one pollutant illegal system that is up for approval and permit granting fy SJRWMD after more than two years of the taxpayers stating that the original installation was done without the consent of the owners of the private canal which has become a dedicated 'storm water sewer' without their permission or knowledge of its plannig. But not without hearing from 55 people who signed a petition to stop the pollution and re direct the storm water to its historical flow through the wetlands into South Lake.
No, it did not happen...instead the City and County in Brevard have approved the illegal dumping of pollution into a private canal...a deal was made to use a filtration system to minimize the pollution...but there was no pollution before May 2007! and now we have a sewer in our backyards.
The after the fact application was done using lies and incorrect information...this was stated repeatedly throughout a period of May 2007 to did not matter...agreements were made behind closed doors and the taxpayers did not see the laws and regulations obeyed by those who are supposed to enforce it.
And the undocumented facts also show one cancer death or cancer patient in every other house at least! The cats die of cancer! The flora and fauna are gone...the two years seem like a too long ago time 'before the illegal dumping life and after the pollution life in the neighborhood.'
How dare they? But they do dare and we, the taxpayers have had no right! no freedom of any kind observed! we have lost this battle to people who seem to believe they are invincible! they can do and say whatever they want because there is no one to stop them! I and mean no one to stop them!
I asked for an inspection at SJRWMD over one month ago! I have not heard a word from them...the person receiving the request, the Chief inspector, had his assistant to forward it to someone saying: no need to reply or acknowledge receipt of this message!
What exactly is going on in 'Crookville' in Better be Quiet, Florida?
People are scared to say anything more now that they know..."the complaining is not going to change anything" and there may be retaliation!
Sad, so sad. Can we lose our rights without knowing it?

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