Environmental Protection

Pediatricians Weigh In on Toxic Chemicals Debate

Below is a statement from Andy Igrejas, director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition:

"We can now add the well-researched and trusted voice of the nation's pediatricians to those calling for reform of the U.S. chemical law.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a new law must prioritize children's health by protecting children and their families from dangerous chemicals. With this recommendation, AAP has joined the nation's leading health organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Nurses Association, in calling for an overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which is widely understood to be ineffective at protecting the public from exposure to toxic chemicals.

The input from the AAP is particularly helpful as it provides authoritative medical guidance to policy makers on the details of reform as they begin debate again this month. Years in the making, the AAP statement comes at a critical time. The U.S. Senate has legislation before it, the Safe Chemicals Act, that tracks closely with the Academy's recommendations. The Senate should move quickly to enact it."

It's worth noting that the Academy's recommendations for chemical policy directly contradict the main industry group, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), on several points:

1. The Academy explicitly says that old and new chemicals should have to meet the same safety requirements for evidence. The ACC has virulently opposed the provisions in both House and Senate legislation last year that did just that.

2. The Academy says that chemicals should be evaluated for both their aggregate and cumulative affects. (Aggregate is the combined exposure to one chemical from several sources. Cumulative is the combined exposure to different chemicals that have similar effects.) The ACC ridiculed both concepts in House testimony last August.

3. The Academy endorses the safety standard in the new Safe Chemicals Act (also present in last year's legislation) pointing to its success in the area of pesticides. The ACC has strenuously opposed the standard - again, with a tone that could be described as ridicule- while refusing to propose a different one.

4. The Academy endorses minimum information and testing requirements for chemicals when they are proposed to be marketed, including, but not limited to, reproductive and developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, and endocrine disruption. The ACC has opposed minimum information requirements for chemicals.

5. Perhaps most importantly, the Academy's first recommendation is that while the EPA base it's decisions about chemicals on evidence, those decisions should be based on "reasonable levels of concern and not depend on demonstrated negative health effects after release." This statement is a helpful reminder to policy makers to take a public health approach, rather than a criminal law approach to decisions about chemicals. At the point at which a chemical can be absolutely proven to have hurt people, it is too late.

The Academy also makes several other recommendations that are new and constructive. They call for a new public information document for each chemical that explains any health concerns in plain language. This recommendations tracks with the complaints of many companies and also workers that the existing system for communicating chemical hazards- the material safety data sheet- is inadequate. The Academy also stresses the importance of bio-monitoring as a tool in chemical policy and calls for the expansion of the existing program at the Centers for Disease Control.

All in all, the Academy's statement is a welcome addition to the debate over federal reform. It both adds urgency to the cause of reform and reminds that the details of reform matter.

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