Chemical regs hit snag in House PDF Print E-mail
Written by ALEX ASPACHER, Sentinel Staff Writer   
Monday, 07 April 2014 09:56
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File photo. U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green.
A funny thing happened when activists pushed for stronger regulations of chemicals in consumer products.
A House subcommittee leader introduced a bill environmental and health advocates say would weaken the outdated, ineffective laws already in place.
The Senate had been working on a bill that incorporated the input it sought from public health and environmental officials, but the House's version instead includes only suggestions made by chemical companies, said Andy Igrejas, director of the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Initiative based in Washington, D.C.
"(The Senate) actually had a good process leading up to this - they had a lot of hearings, they heard from a lot of voices - and then the result was something that really just ignored everything that didn't come from a chemical company," Igrejas said.
"The problem with the House bill is it came after all of that debate in the Senate, and yet there seemed to be a deliberate decision to ignore all of the issues that had been raised."
Igrejas said the Chemicals in Commerce Act, a House discussion draft introduced Feb. 27, focuses on not impacting commerce at the expense of public health and environmental concerns, the driving cause behind a push to reform the dated law currently regulating chemicals on the market.
Rather than put more power behind the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the House bill as introduced would keep intact the same ineffective federal standard of restricting chemicals and weaken states' abilities to be more vigilant, Igrejas said.
Current law allows the Environmental Protection Agency to require testing before new chemicals hit the market, but the agency faces a more difficult standard in imposing regulations on more than 60,000 that were already on store shelves when TSCA was passed.
Igrejas explained that while the EPA can challenge a chemical's use under TSCA, it must show that proven problems such as a health problem are definitively connected to chemical exposure, and that replacing its use would not cause an overly adverse impact on companies.
Since 1976, just 200 chemicals have been evaluated for safety, and the EPA has only been successful in restricting five, said Melanie Houston, director of water policy and environmental health for the Ohio Environmental Council.
Even restrictions on asbestos were not held up under the existing act, with courts determining in 1991 that the EPA had not proven it presented an "unreasonable risk."
That difficult standard in imposing chemical regulations is at the top of the list of changes sought by members of the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families initiative, whose members include a broad swath of those in the health and environmental industries.
It's a goal seen as important by Ohioans as well. According to 2011 polling data provided by Igrejas, 81 percent of Ohio voters surveyed said they thought it was important to tighten controls on U.S. chemicals, with 73 percent indicating day-to-day exposure to chemicals was a serious threat.
Igrejas said the American Association of Pediatrics was particularly involved in pushing for a health-based evaluation rather than one that considers the cost for companies in avoiding a chemical.
"They call this reform, but EPA would still have a hard time restricting much in terms of existing chemicals, (and) the things it is able to do now in terms of new chemicals would be harder to do," Igrejas said.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, will play a key role in determining the immediate future of the bill. Latta, who generally opposes new regulation and has supported rolling back some of those already on the books, is one of 14 Republicans on the Environment and Economy subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce committee.
Igrejas and Houston say all 11 Democrats on the subcommittee currently oppose the Chemicals in Commerce Act and would need two Republicans to join in rejecting the bill.
"I don't think there's a single thing in there that moves the needle in favor of greater public health or environmental protections," Igrejas said. "They just need to go back to the drawing board."
Latta, whose staff heard concerns from Igrejas and Houston late last week, said it's important to keep unsafe chemicals off the market and generally supports replacing the 38-year-old law.
"When you're looking at something 38 years old, it's worth updating and making sure that it's working properly," he said.
Latta did not comment on particular aspects of the House bill, noting it's still early in process, as its title as a "discussion draft" indicates.
"This shows you how to get things going. It's more something to work from" than a bill ready for a vote, Latta said.
"We're not even close, is the best way to say it."

Last Updated on Monday, 07 April 2014 11:55
 

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