Monday, November 21, 2011

Congress finally gets to work on chemical reform

After watching 2 hours of constructive, informed, substantive, and sometimes even juicy debate in the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee last week, I am elated that toxic chemicals reform is finally on the agenda in Congress. It's not there because of special interest lobbying or industry pay-backs, but because everyday folks (like you and me!) have been badgering Congress so persistently to do something about this toxic chemicals mess, that they are finally getting the message.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the federal law that covers the chemicals that saturate our every-day lives as ingredients in almost every consumer product you can name. With more than 80,000 chemicals on the market and less than 200 tested for safety, it’s no wonder that TSCA is widely considered to be a complete failure.

Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 to fix TSCA’s problems and give the American people an assurance of safety when products like baby bottles and household cleaners are put on the market. He facilitated a lively bipartisan discussion that covered everything from the EPA’s jurisdiction to the “body burden” of 212 industrial chemicals in Senator Udall’s body.

Five expert witnesses testified to the committee (you can read their testimonies and watch the archived video here). Watching the hearing, it became clear that all the stakeholders are at the table, and that one - the chemical manufacturers - are dragging their feet. One Senator after the next grilled the American Chemistry Council and asked them to stop criticizing from the sidelines, roll up their sleeves and get to work fixing TSCA, if they are sincere in their assertions that it needs to be fixed. Another key industry player, the Consumer Specialty Products Association, representing the likes of Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble, is clearly doing just that. The CSPA and the environmental health folks in the hearing room agreed that they are “on the cusp” of agreeing to solutions for all the sticky points they identified in the hearing.

Next stop: "Markup," which is inside-the-beltway language for all the stakeholders getting out their red pens and working with Senate staff to make detailed edits to the bill so that the committee can vote on actual changes. After the hearing, Senator Lautenberg reiterated his intention to bring the Safe Chemicals Act to a vote before the year is out.

Now that the ball is finally moving down the field, we all need to make sure that our Senators understand how important chemical reform is to our health and our economic future. Moms like me have kept up a steady drumbeat that has put safer chemicals on Congress’s to-do list. Our job now is to make sure that they get it done.

It was a great feeling last week to watch the Senate seriously debating an issue so important to our health and our future. This week as I give thanks with my family for our many blessings, I’ll also be giving thanks for all of you who are working together for a healthier world for our children.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How I turned my 1991 Camry wagon into a force for environmental justice

by Guest Blogger Kate Pattison

Donate your car to Toxic Free NC, it's so much easier than dealing with insurance companies!

My beloved 1991 Toyota Camry has always been there for me. It motored through work travels that took me all over the southeastern United States, endured a hellish commute on I-40 between Raleigh and Durham for about two years, and steadfastly for the past two years my Camry has been right there backed up almost to the fence among the thickening bamboo and English ivy in my driveway. It hasn't left my sight (as long as I stand in the driveway).

Back in the winter of 2010, that jolly little wagon was plugging along *slowly* but reliably back home when the transmission took its last breath and gave out on the upward climb of a hill near Crabtree Valley. With an expensive overhaul, Camry could have been back at it on I-40 within the week, but I knew the repairs would cost far more than the value of the car. I had been aiming for at least 250,000 miles on the odometer. Camry made it to 230,000. Good enough.

So should I sell Camry? With a busted transmission, it was only good for parts at that point. I did a little research and found out that by donating my car, I could get a nice tax deduction. After a $75 processing fee, the recipient of my donation would get the rest of the cash. I wanted my favorite local non-profit, Toxic Free NC, to reap the rewards of my car's demise. And, it just so happens that my sister, Fawn Pattison, is the Executive Director at Toxic Free NC. Fawn liked the car donation idea, too, and set up TFNC's relationship with a car donation program. I was going to be the test case for Toxic Free NC's very first car donation!

The process was extremely easy; I called the nice people at CARS, they took some basic information about my car (VIN number, etc) and told me I would get a call from a towing company within 48 hours. The following day, I filled out the seller's information on my title and got it notarized at my bank, plus the towing company called and set up the appointment. By the time Camry was rolling out of its spot at the very back of the driveway yesterday (and just out of the grasp of rapidly encroaching bamboo), it was just a hair over 48 hours since I had placed that first call to car donation folks.

It was actually the second call to the car donation folks. I did say Camry died in the winter of 2010, and I formulated the donation plan then. But I didn't keep my decomposing car in the driveway for two years out of some sick attachment, and I didn't leave it there out of laziness, either. Well, not too much laziness. A few other car-related things intervened to delay the process.

After Camry was decommissioned, I became the owner of a lovely Honda Accord, which was promptly rear-ended. A short while later, a freak wind storm blew my neighbor's tree down - right on top of the Accord. While the Accord was in the shop having the tree damage fixed, I was rear-ended again, this time in the rental car! And the giant pile of mulch (from said fallen tree) blocked Camry from being extracted from the driveway for most of 2011. So there you have it. Moral of the story: donate your car to Toxic Free NC, it's so much easier than dealing with insurance companies.