Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Baby steps won't get us there

Photo by Dermot O'Halloran via Flickr
by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

We welcomed the news of a bi-partisan compromise bill on toxics reform with open arms. Finally! A bill to overhaul our failed national toxics law! With sponsors from both parties! The Chemical Safety Improvement Act is truly a political breakthrough, and worth celebrating.

But reading (and re-reading) the bill's 127 pages was a disappointment. While there are some really important steps forward - such as requiring proof of safety before new chemicals come onto the market, and finally giving the EPA authority to restrict chemicals found to be hazardous - the Chemical Safety Improvement Act won't get the job done.

Simply put, the bill lacks priorities. Any legislation to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act needs to get its priorities straight:
  • Prioritize the children and pregnant women we're supposed to be watching out for. The bill should direct EPA to focus on "vulnerable populations." That's EPA-speak for the people whose  toxic exposures matter most.
  • Prioritize the high-hazard chemicals. The bill needs to spell out deadlines and expectations for EPA so that they know what to focus on, and when. Put the worst chemicals at the top of the priority list. Without priorities and deadlines, it will be very difficult for EPA to create a program that works, or secure the resources to carry it out.
  • Prioritize accountability. States should be able to hold the federal government accountable if they're not getting the job done under a new toxics law. The Chemical Safety Improvement Act puts too many restrictions on states' ability to act, even before EPA takes action on a single chemical. 
  • Prioritize health. When EPA orders a ban or phaseout of a chemical because of its tremendous risks for human health, there should be no cost-benefit analysis for action. If a chemical is too dangerous to be on the market, that should be the end of the story. Requiring a cost-benefit analysis can actually deter innovation, since maintaining the status quo is almost always the easier way. Health and safety should be the only factors EPA considers when a chemical rises to the top of the priority list.
Baby steps are beautiful to see, but our priorities require some superhero-sized strides. With over 80,000 chemicals in the marketplace, and soaring rates of chronic health conditions like autism and childhood cancers, we can't afford to toddle slowly forward. We're counting on our Senators to get this bill's priorities in order.

1 comment: