Advocates from more than 50 environmental justice, health, sustainable business and community organizations delivered a letter to the United States Senate in opposition to S. 697, which could block states from taking new actions to protect consumers and communities from exposure to toxic chemicals.
Advocates noted that the proposed bill would actually be worse than current law and would fail to create effective reform of the nation’s toxic chemical safety program. The law would only require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to begin reviewing 25 chemicals in the first five years with up to up to 7 years to complete each review. Meanwhile, the bill would deny states the ability to take new regulatory actions on any of these “high-priority” chemicals.
“Our indigenous peoples in Alaska and the Arctic have some of the highest exposures to persistent bioaccumulative toxics (PBTs) of any population on the planet and we suffer disproportionate health harms including cancers, birth defects and learning and developmental disabilities,” said Vi Waghiyi, Health and Justice Program Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Vi is a Yupik Grandmother from Savoonga, Alaska, now living on St. Lawrence Island. “The Vitter-Udall bill does not protect our lands, waters and the health and well-being of our people. It does not address these PBTs. We cannot support it.”
Public health and safety advocates described numerous troubling concerns with S. 697, including:
- S. 697 would not explicitly protect communities affected by legacy chemical contamination, or by chemical disasters such as the 2014 Elk River spill in West Virginia that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 people.
- S. 697 would not explicitly require EPA to consider the cumulative burden of chemical pollution–which is essential for people who live near highly contaminated industrial and military sites or are disproportionately exposed to chemicals through food or at their workplace.
- S. 697 lacks strict deadlines that ensure that EPA can make meaningful progress reviewing and regulating the hundreds of chemicals of concern. It would require only that EPA start the review of 25 chemicals within five years and would allow the agency up to seven years to review each substance. There is noclear deadline for implementing restrictions or phase-outs of even the most toxic chemicals.
- S. 697 will deny states the ability to take new actions to regulate any “high priority” chemicals for which EPA has initiated a safety review, despite the several-year gap in protections before EPA takes action. Only state actions taken by January 1st, 2015 are explicitly grandfathered in, creating further ambiguity about state-level protections remaining in place until EPA acts to restrict a chemical of concern.
- S. 697 would allow manufacturers to receive expedited review of their favored chemicals, but it would not require expedited review of toxic chemicals most clearly needed with regard to the public interest, such as asbestos and other persistent, toxic and bioaccumulative substances.
- S. 697 would add yet another hurdle to the process of regulating products containing toxic chemicals. The bill would require EPA to show that people have “significant exposure” to the chemical in the product before taking regulatory action, which provides another avenue for challenges from industry.
- S. 697 does not ensure that EPA’s chemical safety review program is adequately funded. It in fact limits industry sources of funding, effectively hobbling EPA’s ability to effectively safeguard public health from toxic chemicals. S. 697 requires that