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US Senate to vote on toxic chemical legislation

By Joe Whitworth , 25-Jul-2012
Last updated the 25-Jul-2012 at 13:26 GMT

The US Senate will vote today on whether to overhaul federal law on toxic chemicals in the midst of a push to update legislation.

The Environment and Public Work Committee vote could pave the way for legislation that hasn’t been updated since the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) 1976. 

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), seeks to require chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of industrial chemicals used in products. 

The committee held an “Oversight of EPA Authorities and Actions to Control Exposures to Toxic Chemicals " oversight hearing yesterday about toxic flame retardant chemicals.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has to prove a chemical is unsafe then seek to ban it.   

FDA BPA ban 

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned Bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles and sippy cups but Mercyhurst University Public Health Department Chair, Dr. David Dausey, called it a ‘hollow victory’.

Dausey told FoodProductionDaily.com: “Corporations are dictating policy, take the BPA in baby bottles as an example, most companies had already removed it, then the FDA comes and bans it, it is convenient.

“It should be up to the manufacturers to prove that the chemical used to make the product, such as a non-stick pan, won’t harm people,” he said.

“Products need to demonstrate that they don’t cause long term health consequences or cancers 20 years from now. 

“With anything potentially toxic, the greater exposure the more risk. Some arguments say that levels of exposure are not that much, we need to ask where’s the data to prove that exposure is low in parts per billion.”  

BPS study 

When asked about a recent study by Kurunthachalam Kannan et al. into bisphenol S (BPS), a potential replacement to BPA, which showed people are being exposed to higher levels of the chemical, Dausey said more research needs to be done. 

The testing that has been done for BPA needs to be done for BPS, if we just go ahead and replace it and don’t ensure that it’s safe, that’s foolish in my mind.  

“The priority has to be chemicals used in things like water bottles and canned food, anything that comes from a product into the body is the low hanging fruit which we can all agree will be common sense for some regulation.” 

Dausey said it is no use switching one evil for another and thinking in the future why potential problems weren’t though about first.

As long as a company prove the substance isn’t toxic immediately they can market it but potential long term effects need governments to regulate more closely. 

“We know enough to see how it’s acting on the body, for example BPA mimics estrogen, so we know what to look for and where, and that helps us to be able to hypostasize and test. 

“There are chemicals used throughout history that have later been found out to be harmful, like Asbestos, so we need thorough testing on any BPA replacement.” 

PFOA concern 

Earlier this month, the FDA announced five perfluorinated chemicals will be voluntarily withdrawn by their manufacturers and Dausey said people don’t realise they have these chemicals in their body. 

“The challenges with PFOA is its persistence in the environment and now that it’s out there, it stays in our bodies and nature for a long, long time.  

“Nobody wants to hear that there should be more government regulation but it’s what helps keep people safe.  

“The corporations are interested in maximising profit, not protecting public health, and if no-one regulates we’re all in a lot of trouble.”

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