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"Chemicals in Commerce Act" Worse Than Existing Failed Chemicals Policy

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New House Draft Bill to Weaken Already Ineffective Toxic Chemical Regulation

(Washington, DC) The Environment and Economy Subcommittee of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee is having a hearing tomorrow (3/12/14) at 10:00 am in Room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office Building to discuss a draft bill, called “The Chemicals in Commerce Act,” that would weaken regulations on toxic chemicals.

The draft bill appears to simply be a partisan presentation of the chemical industry’s “wish list” to gut reform proposals, and was developed in isolation from environmental justice, health, community, sustainable business and worker leaders. The hearing witness list is dominated by chemical corporation representatives.

Health advocates, disability advocates, and leaders of contaminated communities are dubbing it the “The Chemicals in People Act” because it does nothing to stop the widespread poisoning of people from unregulated toxic chemicals.

The bill would gag doctors and other healthcare providers from speaking about the health impact of chemicals to their patients, make it nearly impossible for states to control the most dangerous chemicals even when the federal government is not acting, and tie up federal attempts at chemical safety in red tape and bureaucratic delay.

“The name says it all” says Stephen Boese, Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State. “This bill protects chemicals in commerce, but does nothing to help real people from chemical exposure, contamination and related illness and disability.”

“We have been rocked by reports of communities contaminated by toxic chemicals, new research showing the link between toxic chemicals and learning disabilities and other neurological impairments in children, such as autism, and almost daily reports disclosing the discovery of toxic chemicals in everyday products,” said Boese. “Apparently, the authors of the Chemicals in Commerce Act have seen these reports and decided that this would be an ideal time to further relax chemical controls. Well we don’t agree.”

Kathy Curtis, LPN with Clean and Healthy New York says, “This bill is just another attempt to open the door wider for chemical companies to sell their products, while simultaneously shutting the door on people’s ability to protect their own health, the health of their children and families, and the health of their communities. This bill is a poison pill.”

“We do not consider Rep. Shimkus’s bill to be a credible response to the urgent toxic chemical crisis that is contributing to increased incidence of diseases including asthma, infertility, birth defects and cancer,” says Nancy Buermeyer of the Breast Cancer Fund. “The bill would do nothing to curb Americans’ exposure to chemicals that a growing body of science has linked to increased risk of breast cancer and numerous other health problems.”

“This bill tramples on the human right to health for all U.S. residents. It restricts the EPA from taking action to prevent exposure to toxic chemicals. It undermines the ethical obligations of doctors and nurses by making it illegal for them to inform the public about the harmful effects of a chemical substance or product. It also prevents states from enacting more protective laws to reduce chemical pollution. Under this bill, the poor environmental protection that we fight against in Louisiana would become the national standard, says Monique Harden, co-director/attorney of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights in Louisiana.

“Health care professionals have made an urgent plea for TSCA reform because of mounting evidence about environmentally-caused illness. Perversely, the new House bill makes it illegal for physicians, nurses or other healthcare providers to publicly disclose information about toxic chemicals that may be making their patients sick,” adds Martha Arguello, Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles. “This new bill does virtually nothing to help protect the patient population from toxic chemicals. It has no provisions for cumulative exposures to many chemicals over time.”

"As nurses, we are deeply concerned about the health impacts associated with chemical exposures and have been working tirelessly in support of true TSCA reform,” said Katie Huffling, MS, RN, CNM, Director of Programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. "Unfortunately, this bill continues with more of the status quo, putting profits before the health of Americans. By upping the penalties for disclosing chemical information to patients, this bill also discourages health care providers from investigating links between chemical exposures and health impacts, and flies in the face of everything we are taught about patient-provider relationships."

Each legislator in the House is up for re-election this year, and many are getting campaign contributions from the chemical industry. Some observers believe this new bill is part of a push to pass a bad version of TSCA reform before Congress adjourns for the height of campaign season.

“The Shimkus bill legalizes the ‘canary in the coal mine’ approach to chemicals management. This is especially true for those of us in Environmental Justice communities living with the legacy of chemical pollution, use, storage and waste. Recently President Obama signed an Executive Order on chemical security to strengthen our safety from catastrophic events. And now Rep. Shimkus introduced a bill that puts us all back in harm’s way,” adds Jose Bravo with Just Transitions Alliance.

“This bill virtually mandates that those most harmed from toxic chemicals continue to be sick and dying - it results in disproportionate health and pollution impacts in communities of color,” says Michele Roberts, Coordinator of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance. “Environmental Justice groups are paying close attention to their Representatives in the House, and how they will respond to this bad bill. Those who cave in to chemical corporations’ power will have to face the voters in their districts in this year’s election, and explain to them how they can fail to protect them from suffering from toxic chemicals exposures.”

“The House bill has the chemical corporations Toxic Dirty fingerprints all over it,” says Juan Parras from t.e.j.a.s. in Houston, Texas. “There are no safeguards for environmental health protections, no deadlines for making sure chemicals are safe, no mandate for disposing of toxic chemicals safely, and EPA still has no authority to protect us from toxic chemicals.”

“The cry from Congressional opponents of ObamaCare was the false accusation that the law put government between you and your doctor,” says Frank Knapp with the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, an affiliate of the American Sustainable Business Council. “Amazingly those same members of Congress now advocate for a law that in fact does put government penalties between you and your doctor regarding what you can be told is making you ill. This bill is a license for the chemical industry to harm and kill our small business owners, employees and customers who have no idea what toxic chemicals are in the products they are handling.”

"The draft Chemicals in Commerce Act effectively prevents innovation in safer chemicals and will almost ensure that American businesses will lose out to European competitiveness in safer chemicals development; nevermind the almost guaranteed ongoing public exposure to hazardous chemicals” added Beverley Thorpe, Consulting Co-Director of Clean Production Action. “Unlike Europe's chemicals regulation, there is absolutely no responsibility or incentive for users of hazardous chemicals to search for, or develop, safer alternatives. This Bill is a real lost opportunity to promote American innovation.”

More info: Coming Clean, www.LouisvilleCharter.org

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