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Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 Introduced

Passage would protect women’s health, experts say

For Immediate Release:
April 19, 2011

Jamie Silberberger, jamies@womensvoices.org, 406-543-3747
Sian Wu, sian@resource-media.org, 206-374-7795 x102

WASHINGTON—New legislation that would upgrade the U.S.’s outdated system for managing chemical safety, the “Safe Chemicals Act” was introduced last week. Women’s health experts and advocates Women’s Voices for the Earth say that passage would have a particularly large impact on protecting women from toxic chemicals linked to serious health problems. The bill was introduced by Senators Frank Lautenberg, Barbara Boxer, Amy Klobuchar, Charles Schumer, Al Franken and others. (Click here to watch video of Sen. Lautenberg talking about the bill.)

The Act responds to increasingly forceful warnings from scientific and medical experts — including the President’s Cancer Panel — that current policies have failed to curtail common chemicals linked to diseases such as breast cancer, endometriosis, infertility, and more.

“American women are waking up to the fact that our current system for regulating chemicals is too relaxed to be protective,” said Jamie Silberberger, director of policy and programs at the national women’s health advocacy group, Women’s Voices for the Earth. “We hear from women every day who are trying to make the healthiest choices for their families but can’t trust that the products they are using in their homes are safe. We need a new law that puts commonsense limits on toxic chemicals that are on the market and used in consumer goods, to help those women protect themselves and their families.”

The Safe Chemicals Act would overhaul the 35-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which is widely perceived to have failed to protect public health and the environment. It is estimated that between 80,000 and 85,000 chemicals are in use in the environment in United States, yet only about 200 of these chemicals have been tested for safety and only five have been banned or restricted. Of those chemicals that have been tested, most have been evaluated only for their acute impacts to adult males in industrial settings. With several big businesses such as Dow, Staples, and Procter & Gamble on board as well, this is a sign that chemical policy reform has broad-based support.

Specifically the Act would:

•    Establish a safety standard based on vulnerable human populations which includes pregnant women;

•    Require EPA to identify and restrict the “worst of the worst” chemicals, those that persist and build up in the food chain (see Lautenberg’s summary: http://lautenberg.senate.gov/assets/SafeChem-Summary.pdf

•    Require basic health and safety information for all chemicals as a condition for entering or remaining on the market;

•    Reduce the burden of toxic chemical exposures on people of color and low-income and indigenous communities;

•    Upgrade scientific methods for testing and evaluating chemicals to reflect best practices called for by the National Academy of Sciences; and

•    Generally provide EPA with the tools and resources it needs to identify and address chemicals posing health and environmental concerns.

Women are uniquely impacted by toxic chemical because of their biological make-up. Scientific studies show that many chemicals stored in a woman’s body are passed onto her child during pregnancy and later through breast-feeding. A 2005 study by the Environmental Working Group revealed that at least 287 hazardous industrial chemicals pass through the placenta to the fetus4. Synthetic chemicals are so prevalent in a woman’s breast milk today that, if bottled for sale, most breast milk would not pass FDA regulations.

Research indicates women’s health problems associated with toxic chemical exposure are on the rise. Over the last two decades, breast cancer rates have risen from a lifetime risk of one in 20 to one in eight. The onset of puberty is occurring at an earlier age among young girls, and endometriosis, a leading cause of female infertility, is far more common today than it was 50 years ago.

“This legislation would help keep our children and families safe from toxic substances while providing businesses clear standards for developing new products in the years to come,” said Sen. Klobuchar, a co-sponsor of the bill. “This is a common-sense step that creates safe rules to handle toxic substances and protect public health.”

Women’s Voices for the Earth is a national organization that works to eliminate toxic chemicals that impact women’s health by changing consumer behaviors, corporate practices and government policies. More information available at womensvoices.org.

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