WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Representatives Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), today introduced a comprehensive overhaul of federal chemical rules called the “Kid-Safe Chemicals Act.” The proposal comes as recent revelations of toxic chemicals leaching from certain toys and baby bottles have exposed crucial holes in the safety net to both parents and policymakers. The new legislation would identify and restrict all toxic chemicals, starting with those that our children are exposed to before birth.
“The unfortunate truth is that concerns with chemicals in toys and baby bottles represent just the tip of the iceberg,” said Andy Igrejas, campaign manager at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “The whole system around chemicals is woefully outdated at a time when the science is only heightening our cause for concern.”
The law governing the roughly 82,700 industrial chemicals is called the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was passed in 1976 and has not been fundamentally altered since then. It applies to chemicals that are intentionally produced for some commercial purpose – other than pesticides and drugs which are regulated under other laws. In several reports and written testimony over the last few years, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) has detailed many problems with the law and compared it unfavorably to new policies in Europe. As the GAO reiterated in Senate testimony last week, “Overall, we found that EPA has limited information on the health and environmental risks of chemicals.”
The lack of official information and action on chemicals comes in the face of several disturbing trends in science. First, the relatively new science of bio-monitoring –detecting industrial chemicals in human blood and tissue- has shown that Americans are widely exposed to multiple chemicals at the same time. Some of these – like bisphenol A, the controversial ingredient in polycarbonate baby bottles - have adverse health effects even at very low doses in laboratory studies. Scientists have known for some time that children are especially vulnerable to toxic chemicals, but recent work has gone even further, showing that small doses at crucial periods before birth and during a child's development can have health effects – like cancer or learning disabilities- that manifest much later in life.
“We need a new policy that applies widely held values- like protecting vulnerable children- to what the science is telling us about the chemicals that are pervasive in our society,” Igrejas said. “The United States should be able to identify and remove the chemicals that threaten public health and become a leader in producing safer materials for the whole world.”
The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act is the first legislation proposed in recent memory that would apply to all chemicals, rather than one or two problematic ones. It would require that the manufacturers of all chemicals provide a minimum amount of health and safety data to the EPA and would require that that EPA review that data to ensure that chemicals meet a strict children's health standard, or be removed from the market.
In a major innovation, the legislation would require EPA to partner with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use the new tool of bio-monitoring to identify the amount of exposure of Americans to chemicals. It would also require the CDC to test umbilical cord blood for toxic chemicals, and any found would be automatically restricted. When a chemical is found in umbilical cord blood, it means that children are being exposed to it prenatally – a crucial period of development where chemical contamination can be especially harmful. This kind of exposure has been linked to immediate problems like birth defects, but also to problems later in life such as learning disabilities, cancer, and impaired fertility.
Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information visit the Environmental Health Project (Kid-Safe Chemicals) on PewHealth.org.