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New toxic chemical bill would weaken protections, critics charge

From the Center for Effective Government:

Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) released a draft bill entitled the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA) on Thursday, Feb. 27 that provides no significant improvements in protecting public health and the environment from toxic chemicals. Many of the provisions in the draft bill maintain the already deficient approaches to health protections now included under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), our nation's outdated and ineffective chemical safety law. Even worse, aspects of the legislation would weaken TSCA and undercut current protections provided by states that have adopted more stringent chemical laws.

Many of the problems posed by provisions of S. 1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), are also apparent in CICA. Among many deficiencies, the bill would prevent states from regulating chemicals classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as "low priority" risks, as well as preempt the ability of states to adopt requirements for "high priority" risk chemicals that are more protective than those established by EPA. CICA continues the existing law's perverse approach to establishing safety standards, in which the burden of proof falls on the EPA to prove a chemical poses an "unreasonable" health risk, rather than on chemical companies to prove the safety of their products.

Other shortcomings of CICA include:

  • The bill provides no deadlines for the EPA to assess the potential risks of chemicals and regulate them, leaving it to the EPA administrator to designate chemicals as either high- or low-priority "as soon as feasible."
  • The legislation includes broad protections for confidential business information that would allow companies to keep secret the chemical identities of their products and would prevent EPA from requiring companies to justify their previous confidentiality claims for the thousands of chemicals that have received such designations before adoption of CICA.
  • It requires EPA to use assessment methods on how chemicals should be prioritized and assessed for risks that are inconsistent with approaches recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.
  • The bill doesn't include the most highly exposed and often disadvantaged communities in the definition of "potentially exposed sub-populations" that EPA would need to consider in prioritizing chemicals for safety review.

The minimal amount of information available to the public and health professionals about the hazards associated with the chemicals spilled into the water supply of the Charleston, West Virginia area highlights the pressing need for a new national approach to chemical safety. We must ensure that the comprehensive information needed to assess the health and environmental effects of toxic chemicals will be available in a timely manner. Unfortunately, the Shimkus bill, much like the CSIA that it mimics, won't provide those answers and represents a major step backward in efforts to protect public health and the environment from toxic chemicals.

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