Safe Chemicals Act Passes Senate Committee on Party Line Vote
A key Senate committee today approved the first fundamental overhaul of federal chemicals regulation since passage of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), widely considered the weakest of the major U.S. environmental laws.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee endorsed Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) Safe Chemicals Act on a party-line vote, marking an important milestone in the decade-long efforts by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and others to update and strengthen the flawed system that is supposed to protect Americans from toxic chemicals in consumer products and the environment.
“For the first time since 1976, a Senate committee has advanced a measure that would fundamentally shift how toxic chemicals are tested, approved and used in the marketplace,” Heather White, EWG’s chief of staff and general counsel, said. “The Lautenberg bill would flip the burden of proof on its head, forcing chemical companies to prove that their products are safe for human health and the environment. That has not been the case these last 30 years. As a result, tens of thousands of manmade chemicals are used into every conceivable consumer product without adequate safety testing. If the Lautenberg legislation becomes law, that wild west approach to chemicals management, which has long put human health and the environment at risk, might finally come to an end.”
Scott Faber, EWG’s vice-president for government affairs, noted that the bill proposed by Sen. Lautenberg and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also includes provisions to protect manufacturers’ ability to protect their proprietary trade secrets.
“The presence of so many toxic chemicals in our lives is the leading suspect behind a number of serious public health challenges, including cancer, birth defects and behavioral disorders in children,” Faber said. “The bill developed by Senators Boxer and Lautenberg will, for the first time, subject thousands of chemicals to real review. What's more, the bill addresses many of the concerns raised by companies that manufacture and use chemicals by allowing them to protect information important to their businesses. It's not too late to pass chemical safety legislation that addresses the safety concerns of consumers and meets the economic needs of manufacturers.”
The bill would:
- ensure that all chemicals in on the market pose a “reasonable certainty of no harm,” considered the gold standard for protecting children and accounting for all chemical exposures
- require all manufacturers to justify all claims of business confidentiality on chemicals and ensure that first responders and public safety personnel can access important safety information
- require new chemicals to be screened before going on the marketplace
- protect states’ ability to pass stronger laws
EWG has been calling for TSCA reform for more than a decade. In 2005 the organization provided guidance to Sen. Lautenberg and his staff as he drafted the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, the first proposal by any member of Congress to change the way chemicals are regulated under the 1976 law. That bill never came to a vote.
Underscoring the importance of strengthening the law, EWG researchers have produced a number of groundbreaking reports documenting the extent to which people are polluted with potentially harmful chemicals.
In 2004 and again in 2008, EWG had outside laboratories test umbilical cord blood samples for hundreds of industrial chemicals and found many of them in the babies’ blood, demonstrating that numerous exposures take place even before birth.
Following EWG’s first cord blood study in 2004, EWG President and Co-founder Ken Cook used the findings of that report to develop a presentation titled Ten Americans, using compelling slides and eye-opening statistics to make the case that Congress needed to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act. Cook and others have delivered the talk to hundreds of audiences across the country, including an abbreviated version presented on Feb. 4, 2010 before the Senate Subcommittee for Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, chaired by Sen. Lautenberg.
EWG also conducted the first investigation of toxic fire retardants in parents and their children, showing that toddlers and preschoolers typically had three times as much of these hormone-disrupting chemicals in their blood as their mothers. In all, the study found 11 flame retardants in the children tested.
In 2010, an intensive review of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents by EWG discovered that manufacturers’ overuse of trade secret claims meant that the public had no access to crucial information about approximately 17,000 of the more than 83,000 chemicals on the EPA's master inventory. Companies were shielding the information from disclosure requirements by exploiting broad exemptions allowed under the Confidential Business Information section of TSCA.
And in 2004, EWG assembled what was at the time the most thorough review of the size and scope of the public health tragedy caused by asbestos contamination in the U.S.. The Lautenberg-Boxer bill would designate asbestos as a chemical of very high concern, restricting its used and reducing Americans’ exposure to asbestos and the deadly risks it poses.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who is a member of the EPW Committee and voted in support of the Lautenberg-Boxer bill, has been a leading advocate for those individuals and their families who have suffered as a result of exposure to the deadly carcinogen, asbestos. One of the worst asbestos contamination sites in the country is located at an abandoned mine in Libby, Mt.
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Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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