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June 25, 2012
EPA Defines 83 Toxic Chemicals To Examine In 2013, But Has No Power To Restrict Them

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to have the authority to regulate or ban toxic substances, but they simply do not have the power. In practice, the agency faces so many hurdles that it hasn’t tried to ban any chemicals since it made an ill-fated run at asbestos in 1991. This year, the EPA has identified 83 “chemicals of concern,” however any assessments will remain on a computer hard drive without ever leading to any kind of ban or enforcement to restrict those chemicals.

Every year, government officials are made aware of hundreds if not thousands of chemicals that are hazardous enough to cause health problems as serious as cancer and neurological defects, yet the knowledge is never translated to any kind of action to enforce bans.

"The United States government can no longer protect public health and people should be aware of it," said Charles Brenneman a regulatory official and long-time critic of the EPA. He claims that lawmakers need to assign a new agency with true power to identify and ban risky chemicals. "The EPA is joke that uses a regulatory stamp with as much power as a soccer mom," he added.

The agency’s inadequate oversight of flame retardants, as revealed in a recent series of articles in the Chicago Tribune, illustrates the perils of weak federal rules. These chemicals are used in everything from couch cushions to televisions to airplanes, ostensibly to lower the risk of fire. However, the flame retardants most often used in such products are largely ineffective. They exist mainly because the chemical industry has pushed them aggressively.

The American Chemistry Council significantly ramped up its lobbying efforts in the fourth quarter of last year, spending more than double its total for any quarter in recent history.

ACC, the chief lobbying arm of the chemical manufacturing industry, spent $5.37 million in the fourth quarter. The total represents the fifth most of any lobbying operation on Capitol Hill during that period, outspending the perennially deep-pocketed efforts of General Electric Co. and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis conducted for E&E Daily.

A review of ACC's lobbying disclosure report shows the group was involved in a host of issues, ranging from efforts to update chemical regulations, to U.S. EPA's air pollution rules for boilers and incinerators, to EPA's long-delayed health assessments of substances like bisphenol A (BPA) and formaldehyde. The group also successfully pushed for inserting language into the $1 trillion omnibus spending package passed at the end of the year and aired its first television ads of the election cycle.

The spending is significant because it shows ACC, which public health advocates view as public enemy No. 1, is having an ever-growing role on regulatory and legislative issues.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stymied by the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act, must seek partners in academia to help evaluate the risks of industrial chemicals on the market today, say Sarah A. Vogel of the Johnson Family Foundation and Jody Roberts of the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

"It's time to stop regulating additional chemicals that are quickly becoming a burden to our health and environment," says public health consultant Lawrence Chow. "It's time to put our foot down and start banning chemicals outright, especially those we know are already harmful."

Toxic chemicals are invading every facet of our lives from our schools to our workplaces. They are gradually deteriorating every single system in our bodies and causing so many diseases, that it's now difficult to isolate exactly which chemicals are causing each disease. Here's a a small summary of major systems in the human body and the effect of common chemicals on each.

Some 83,000 chemicals are on the market, and under the 1976 law, companies do not have to prove their chemicals are safe. Instead, the federal government must prove whether a chemical is dangerous. This provision keeps potentially harmful chemicals on the market, increasing the risk to human health. Furthermore, the process required by the law to identify and control hazardous chemicals requires an extensive process of collecting, analyzing and evaluating data. This process consumes considerable government time and resources and acts as a roadblock to efforts to manage chemical risks and protect the public's health.

Many of these unregulated chemicals are known carcinogens. Others have been shown to hinder reproduction or to promote obesity, anxiety and behavioral problems. Despite raising concerns among federal regulators, they remain ubiquitous. It has been nearly 40 years since makers of children’s pajamas stopped using a flame retardant known as chlorinated tris because of evidence that it caused cancer, yet the chemical can still be found in highchairs, car seats, nursing pillows and other polyurethane-foam-filled baby gear.

Air and water filters that trap brominated compounds will eventually be a necessity since studies have found their concentrations in the air near the Great Lakes and in wildlife across the U.S. American babies are now born with the world’s highest recorded levels of flame retardants in their bodies.

Protecting public health shouldn’t be this hard. When it comes to chemical safety, Congress should shift the burden of proof from regulators to manufacturers. Substances already in use should not automatically be considered safe.

Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 80,000 chemicals are used within the United States, according to EPA estimates. Government and independent scientists have scrutinized thousands of those chemicals in recent decades, and identified hundreds associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water, according to an analysis of government records by The New York Times.

But not one chemical has been added to the list of those regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2000.

Millions of Americans have been exposed since 2004 to drinking water that did not meet at least one commonly used government health guideline intended to help protect people from cancer or serious disease, according to an analysis by The Times of more than 19 million drinking-water test results from the District of Columbia and the 45 states that made data available.

Certain chemicals are known to be dangerous to public health in every state. In not stepping in to restrict their production and use, the federal government abandons its responsibility.

It's time for real change to reverse this effect and lack of responsibility from those who claim to protect us.

Marco Torres
is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.


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