By Colin O'Mara
April 19, 2016 at 5:00 am ET
Nearly forty years ago, Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) with the intent of protecting our communities, environment, and fish and wildlife from harmful toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, the law has proven woefully inadequate to protect against the risks posed by chemicals we all agree are dangerous, like asbestos. An overhaul is more than overdue.
Despite gridlock on many issues, key Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been working together to reform and strengthen this complex environmental law. A range of public health and conservation organizations, among them the National Wildlife Federation, as well as industry leaders, also are working hard on this effort.
While most products are safe, each of us every day is exposed to harmful chemicals, whether in cleaning products, paints, jewelry, toys, or other products—and we wrongfully assume such products are reviewed, tested, and deemed safe to use. As outdoor enthusiasts and sportsmen, we are concerned because many of these chemicals eventually find their way into our lakes, rivers, streams, and soils which significantly affect fish and wildlife immune systems, hormone levels, and reproductive systems—all of which impede normal development and can lead to death. These impacts do not just affect wildlife, but also human health, especially for hunters and anglers that depend on healthy fish and game.
Between 500 and 1,000 new chemicals enter the market each year. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently is not required to review or test their safety prior to their becoming commercially available. The conditions under which EPA could conduct such a review are burdensome, at best. Thus, the safety of these new chemicals deserves special attention in this process of updating current law to truly protect us from potential harm.
Under the proposed reforms, EPA would be required to evaluate and affirmatively find that new chemicals are safe before they enter the marketplace. In other words, a new chemical only would be able to proceed to the manufacturing stage, if it is likely to meet the safety threshold. The review process would be efficient, expeditious, and practical to ensure both chemical safety while not inhibiting innovation. The most dangerous chemicals also would then be prioritized for management and consequent protections of people, the environment, and wildlife.
During this time of deeply divided politics, it would have been to assume that finding a bipartisan compromise to overhaul a complex environmental statute would not be possible. But, leaders like Senators Udall and Vitter, and Congressmen Shimkus, Pallone, Upton, and Tonko are proving otherwise. In both the House and Senate, reform bills that include numerous advancements over the status quo passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. These members must continue the progress achieved thus far to address long-standing public health and wildlife concerns, while also setting up a transparent, pragmatic, and predictable chemical evaluation process for industry.
Now is the time to complete work on this vital legislation by reconciling the differences through conference committee and sending a strong bill to the President’s desk. Meaningful, bipartisan compromise is all too rare in Washington these days and, while no compromise is ever perfect, the key members of Congress have displayed courage in championing this important issue. It’s critical that these members continue to work together, mindful of the important issues at hand, to bring the results of their efforts to fruition by ensuring this legislation moves through the final phases of bicameral negotiations and becomes enacted into law as soon as possible – in a manner that truly protects human health, the environment, and wildlife for the next 40 years and beyond.
Delay is not an option. The number of days remaining for Congress to act are shrinking. We must seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to better protect public health, the environment, and our nation’s cherished wildlife by reducing the threats posed by the most toxic chemicals.