The following article is posted with permission from Maine Organic Farmers and Gardners Association.
In an historic vote today, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) passed S. 847, the Safe Chemicals Act, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). This is the first time in more than three decades that Congress has voted on any proposal to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a 36-year-old law that is widely considered to be outdated and ineffective at protecting health and ensuring chemicals used in everyday products are adequately tested for safety.
The vote comes after months of formal and informal meetings between Lautenberg, chemical and consumer product companies, public health advocates, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. As a result, the original bill was changed substantially to address industry concerns about the speed, confidentiality and burden of proof that will become part of the improved system, while still updating TSCA to ensure that dangerous chemicals are quickly identified and phased out of the market.
In an important show of bipartisan support, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe sent a letter to EPW Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) on Friday to “express my support for reform of our nation’s chemical safety law.” Snowe stated in her letter that “a law enacted in 1976 cannot effectively regulate our modern chemical industry” and “reforms must be made to ensure the safety and confidence of the millions of Americans who use these products. I am ready to join you in finally modernizing TSCA.”
Maine parents and advocates applauded Wednesday’s vote and bipartisan leadership by Senator Olympia Snowe that helped set the stage for the historical action.
"Today marks new exciting momentum for fixing our broken chemical law despite relentless attempts by the chemical industry to derail the process," said Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, which coordinates the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine. "We're thankful that Senators Snowe and Collins have demonstrated bipartisan support by calling for reform of the current law and we look forward to their help in bringing this bill to the Senate floor for a vote this fall."
In May of this year, 25 Maine moms travelled by bus to Washington, DC to join a national “Safe Chemicals Stroller Brigade." They met with Senators Snowe and Collins and returned to Maine hopeful that both Senators would take a leadership role in reforming TSCA. Senator Snowe referred to this visit by Maine moms in her press release that accompanied Friday’s letter.
The momentum to reform TSCA has been building for years, led by parents, doctors, businesses and state lawmakers. Research shows there is consistent and overwhelming bipartisan support, including 92 percent of Maine’s likely voters in a March 2012 survey; 88 percent of small businesses in an October 2011 survey; more than 3,700 members from three state medical associations; and 97 percent of state legislators as evidenced by their votes on the Kid-Safe Products Act and a joint resolution in April of this year calling on Congress to take action. This joint resolution was sponsored by Senate President Kevin Raye (R-Washington County) and House Minority Leader Emily Cain (D-Orono) and was delivered to Senators Snowe and Collins by the two dozen Maine moms who took the bus to DC in May.
The EPW Committee vote on the Safe Chemicals Act comes on the heels of Tuesday’s oversight hearing on toxic flame retardant chemicals (PBDE’s) and the role that several major chemical companies had in distorting the science and engaging in deceptive lobbying practices in order to protect the use of their chemicals in furniture and other products, despite evidence that the chemicals don’t effectively impede fires but just make them more toxic. The Centers for Disease Control have found PBDE’s in nearly every American, including all the pregnant women it has tested in its bio-monitoring program.
The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine is a statewide coalition of more than 50 public health, medical, parent, community, women’s, worker, environmental and public interest organizations. Alliance partners have been strong supporters of reforming TSCA and requiring chemical companies to demonstrate the safety of their products using the best available science, creating market incentives for safer alternatives, and giving parents the best information possible about chemicals in products their children use every day.
“One of the most common pathways for exposure to toxic chemicals is through food packaging,” noted Heather Spalding, Deputy Director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “Chemicals such as bisphenol A, perfluorochemicals, dioxin and benzene should have no place in our food supply, yet they occur readily in packaged groceries, and they find their way into our bodies. With the exponential growth in demand for foods grown without toxic agrichemicals, there is an urgent and logical need for packaging that doesn’t contaminate our healthy foods – especially the foods that we feed our children. The Safe Chemicals Act will help food processors and consumers make even more informed decisions about their food purchasing.”
The full Senate is expected to take up the Safe Chemicals Act when they return from their August recess.