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State Experts Warn: Proposed “Chemicals in Commerce Act” Would Wipe Out Public Health Progress

According to state advocates, chemical industry interests are reaching deep into their well-documented bag of tricks with the draft “Chemicals In Commerce Act” released by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) this week. State experts see the draft as a vehicle for more secrets, more safety data loopholes, and faster introduction of untested chemicals—all disguised as “reform” of a badly outdated 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.

Of great concern are the measures to undermine and block state action. As the bill is designed, once EPA takes action of any kind, it would effectively hamstring and sideline state leaders, offering no possibility for states to contribute to health protective chemical policy.

Rep. Shimkus plans to hold hearings in March towards a markup of the bill in April. Safer States encourages state experts and citizens to contact their legislators and make sure our elected officials know the critical contributions of state action to protect public health.

The following summary is based on analysis by Mike Belliveau and the Environmental Health Strategy Center:

Under the Chemicals In Commerce Act:

States would be blindfolded. Today, states like Washington, Maine and California are working in various ways to better understand where, when and why toxic chemicals are in products, and whether safer alternatives are possible. This work would be wiped out. Once the EPA takes action on a chemical, they would hold all reins on data. States could no longer require companies to share information with the public or with state authorities.

State experts would be ignored. Some of the best innovations to protect people from toxic chemicals began as state efforts. For example, state action to restrict toxic brominated flame-retardants eventually led to a national phase-out. Under this law, EPA would have to act alone on tens of thousands of chemicals. And once EPA takes action, it would shut down any state efforts to invent, test or contribute new ideas for chemical regulation.

Money would trump health. Under this proposal, EPA would consider costs right along with health risk. In other words, if a chemical threatens public health but is expensive to replace, EPA might not restrict its use. And once EPA classifies a chemical as low priority, no state can take action, either.

Science would be stuck in the past. The bill would reach back in history to look at actions EPA has taken. If EPA ever made a rule on a chemical—even if it was a weak, narrow or voluntary rule based on science from 37 years ago—then any and all state actions on that chemical would be wiped out immediately. EPA wouldn’t even have a chance to reconsider its rule before state laws are erased.

Old toxic products get a free pass. Today state and federal governments partner with manufacturers to safely dispose of products proven to create human health risks. These programs help keep toxics like heavy metals out of our air and water. Under this proposal, no manufacturer or chemical company could be required to contribute financially to such a program.

No conversation allowed. The law would make sure that, once EPA acts, the lockdown on state action is complete and ironclad. There would be no exceptions or exemptions that could allow state action, no matter what happens in the future.

For more expert evaluations of the proposed bill, see statements from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and The Center for Environmental Health.

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