Congress must make Chemical Safety Act live up to its name

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st Century has a nice ring to it. Named for the late, longtime New Jersey Senator who passed away in 2013, the bill, championed in the Senate by Republican David Vitter and Democratic Tom Udall, would reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). It is a shame that both the current and proposed legislation fall far short of their lofty names, and that countless Americans have suffered, are suffering, will suffer as a result.

I’m not sure what’s more depressing: that TSCA has done so little in the nearly 40 years since its passing to actually control toxic substances and protect the health of our citizens, or that the new bill might actually be worse. This unfortunate dilemma speaks to the many flaws in our government, namely industry lobbyists using money to ensure deregulation and the watering down of once meaningful legislation.

Any bill with the words “chemical” and “safety” in it should make people feel like they can safely use shampoo, buy a couch, or walk through freshly mowed grass. This is not that bill.

For those of us who have been screaming at the top of our lungs for someone, anyone to listen about the dangers chemicals pose to human health, this proposed law feels like a punch in the gut. It is one thing to maintain the status quo of an inefficient law that allows carcinogens to perpetuate in our midst; it is quite another to pretend a new law offers any significant resolutions.

As the Environmental Working Group (EWG) so succinctly put it in a blog on their website, the new Chemical Safety Act, which is fully supported by the chemical industry (red flag, anyone?), would “fail to ensure that chemicals are safe, fail to set meaningful deadlines for safety reviews, fail to provide EPA with adequate resources and deny states the ability to protect public health and the environment.”

One of the saddest things about all of this is the utter lack of urgency lawmakers and health officials seem to feel about how chemicals are harming human health.

Earlier this month, researchers concluded that exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals commonly found in plastics, pesticides, furniture and cosmetics is not only causing an increased risk of serious health problems, it is costing at least $175 billion per year in Europe alone. The researchers also determined that there is a greater than 99 percent chance that these chemicals are contributing to health problems like attention-deficit disorders, obesity, diabetes, and male infertility. Notably, the biggest estimated costs in the study were for the effects these endocrine disrupting chemicals can have on children’s developing brains.

Every week it seems more medical research emerges on the deleterious ways chemicals impact and change our bodies, some of us before we’re even born. Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been linked to increased risk for autism spectrum disorders, and to a quick rise in blood pressure. Phthalate exposure during pregnancy may disrupt an important pregnancy hormone, and affect the masculinization of male genitals in a baby.

As for pesticides, the National Cancer Institute notes that agricultural workers exposed to pesticides have higher rates of leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and cancers of the skin, stomach and brain. Additionally, pesticides may block the absorption of important food nutrients necessary for normal, healthy growth in kids.

If our chronic exposure to chemicals isn’t a health priority in this country, then I’m not quite sure what is. Rather than introduce and laud the accomplishments of this new so-called Chemical Safety Act, lawmakers should go back to the drawing board and make substantial improvements – like demanding quick and efficient action on the roughly 1,000 chemicals the EPA estimates need immediate health and safety review. Or considering the costs of chemicals on human health before considering how much a chemical phase-out would cost manufacturers. Or allowing states to enforce their own restrictions on chemicals, even if such protections are identical to federal law.

Basically, it should look more like the other chemical reform bill introduced in Congress earlier this month by Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Edward Markey, which would strengthen chemical safety reviews, put consumer health first, set tough deadlines for the EPA to review chemicals, and allow states to set restrictions on chemicals, among other things. It is most everything the Udall-Vitter bill is not.

At the very least, any bill with the words “chemical” and “safety” in it should make people feel like they can safely use shampoo, buy a couch, or walk through freshly mowed grass. This is not that bill. The work must continue.

Deirdre Imus, Founder of the site devoted to environmental health,, is President and Founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to, and Fox Business Channel. Check out her website at and ‘Like’ her Facebook page here.