The Clean Water Blog

Federal Chemical Reform - Finally?

By Cindy Luppi, New England Regional Director

Exciting news! For the first time in a generation, we might have finally gained meaningful momentum in the fight to repair our outdated federal laws about chemical safety. Today the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is holding a marathon hearing on updating the laws that regulate the chemicals in the things that we use every day. We're particularly thrilled that  Dorothy Felix, a  leader from Mossville, Louisiana, will be testifying about the devastation her community has suffered from the pollution emitted by a cluster of chemical plants that surrounds the town. The last time Congress did anything about our chemicals laws was 1976 -- the year that Joe Namath played his final game for the New York Jets, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were campaigning to be President, and the average price for a gallon of gas was 59 cents.  In other words…it was a looooong time ago, before we learned that chronic health dangers like cancer or birth defects were linked to these toxic chemicals that we encounter every day.

It may have taken Congress thirty seven years to finally do something, but states have been making strides for years. Today’s hearing comes after precedent-setting chemical reforms in states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota, and California and a well-fought campaign for commonsense limits on toxic chemicals that are in children's toys, our couch cushions, shower curtains and other everyday products we all assume to be safe. It also follows the introduction of the Chemical Safety Improvement, Act S. 1009, co-sponsored by Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Vitter (R-LA) and several of their colleagues. Tragically, Senator Lautenberg passed away soon after the bill was introduced, making today's hearing very poignant while adding to his impressive legacy on this issue.

S. 1009 signals serious, and long overdue, bi-partisan attention to this urgent issue. But, while we are excited by the spotlight on chemicals and health, the bill needs to be amended, in a number of areas, to protect our health and fix the flaws in our current policies. This must, and can happen, before the S. 1009 moves forward. In fact, yesterday, nine Attorneys General submitted comments focusing specifically on state rights to regulate these issues:  "We write to express our deep concerns about the unduly broad preemption language proposed in S.1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.S.1009 would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in a manner that we believe could, in its current form, seriously jeopardize public health and safety by preventing states from acting to address potential risks of toxic substances and from exercising state enforcement powers." We support the Attorneys General and for other amendments to the bill – and will work overtime to help improve the bill.

Interested in tuning in to the hearing? Watch it here.

And thanks for helping us in this battle to prevent harm to our health from toxic hazards