Spring Break for Polluters

by Rick Hind

March 20, 2015

A child playing with rubber ducks. Greenpeace has found high levels of phthalates banned by the EU and the US in childrens products and toys made from vinyl plastic (also called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) on the Chinese market. Phthalates are plastic softeners widely added to PVC materials and are linked to hormone malfunctions and toxicity to the reproductive system. The EU and the US have banned six types of phthalates in childrens products and toys, but China currently lacks comparable regulations.

© Yang Di / Greenpeace

On March 10th, to the applause of the chemical lobby, a bill (S. 697) on toxic chemical regulation was introduced in the Senate. What got peoples attention in Washington was the fact that the bill also had Democratic co-sponsors thanks to a full court press by the chemical lobby. Of course, not everyone who sponsors a bill ends up voting for it but if these Senate Democrats also vote for this bill it could become law.

Of course outside the Beltway people were wondering why the chemical lobby (DuPont, Dow, Exxon) is urging Congress to pass legislation on toxic chemicals. Have they finally come around to Rachel Carsons way of thinking? Hardly, for the next two years the chemical lobby has the best Congress their campaign cash can buy. In fact, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, a Senate IT staffer told Boxers office, We can confidently say that the [bill]was created by a user with American Chemistry Council…

Anyone familiar with the federal toxic chemical control law (TSCA) knows that it’s the weakest of all environmental statutes. So why would the chemical lobby want to change that? In their own words they want “predictability, consistency and certainty that manufacturers and the national marketplace need…”

Translation: they want to stop states from restricting toxic chemical use in every day products.

Over the last 30+ years thirty-eight states have regulated a number of dangerous chemicals such as BPA, formaldehyde, lead, mercury and toxic flame retardants. So if the federal government fails to act, the states can take the lead. In some cases these state rules have benefited people in all states, especially when nationwide firms have removed certain toxic chemicals from products they make or sell.

But in most cases chemicals known to be very dangerous (asbestos, benzene, etc.) and thousands of others that have yet to be fully tested remain on the U.S. market, in our homes, schools and sometimes in our food, water and even our bodies. If the chemical lobbys bill passes it will do little to ban or restrict these chemicals but it will stop every state from banning or restricting them. Almost all federal environmental laws, including the current TSCA statute allow states to set more protective standards than the federal government.

Stopping state action is the chemical lobbys number one priority. And while theyre writing it they also want to slip some new loopholes into TSCA as well. On top of all that they call their bill “comprehensive” so they can tell the next Congress that truly protective legislation, like what the European Union adopted in 2007, is not needed.

In theory it should be easy to fix this bill but this Congress has prioritized gutting environmental laws. In the past we had Republicans like Senators Stafford (R-VT) and Chafee (R-RI), who championed the right of states to adopt more protective laws. Today they would have united with Democratic Senators Boxer (D-CA) and Markey (D-MA) and quickly stopped this poison bill. But if there are Republicans in todays Senate who will stand up to the chemical lobby, they have yet to reveal themselves.

While we wait for them to muster the courage, Senate Democrats could save the day. For example, if the Democrats who co-sponsored S. 697 united with the rest of their party in support of the right of states to adopt more protective laws, they could prevail. And without a provision in the bill that bars stronger action by states, the chemical lobbys enthusiasm for this bill is likely to evaporate faster than paint thinner. If you have two minutes to spare, please give your Senators a call today and urge them to oppose S. 697 now. The switchboard number for all Senate offices is: (202) 224-3121


Rick Hind

By Rick Hind

Rick is the legislative director at Greenpeace USA. Since he joined the organization in 1991, he is a go-to source for journalists covering toxics and chemical security issues. He has been quoted in a wide range of national publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, NPR, FOX, and many more.

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