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From The New York Times:

You might say Sen. Frank Lautenberg wants to be the grandfather of chemical regulation.

The New Jersey Democrat emotes the aura of a grandfather — so much so that even his staff pays him a reverence that goes beyond what senators typically receive from their aides.

And, like most grandfathers, Lautenberg is particularly concerned with children’s health. His eyes light up when asked about how chemicals in the environment or in day-to-day products may pose risks to children.

The 87-year-old lawmaker quickly rattles off statistics such as 5 percent of pediatric cancers, 10 percent of cognition problems in newborns and 30 percent of asthmatics are likely caused by chemical exposures. Not to mention possible links to rising autism rates.

Those statistics, Lautenberg said during a recent interview with E&E Daily in his Senate office, led him to become the chief advocate for reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) — the nation’s only law for regulating chemicals.

“When you looked at TSCA and saw a piece of legislation that had almost no interest or no attention, I thought that was outrageous,” Lautenberg said. “I see families come to the Capitol. This week it was a group with diabetes. You see hundreds of kids sitting out there — not that their condition is necessarily tied to chemical presences — but when you see these children and you see the affliction that is put on them by something. That’s what gets us going.”

There is only one problem: Lautenberg’s numerous efforts at reforming TSCA so far have all failed.

But that is not stopping Lautenberg from trying again this year. The Democrat has introduced the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011,” (S. 847 (pdf)) which calls for a seismic shift in the way chemicals are regulated by placing the burden on manufacturers to prove a chemical is safe before it goes on the market.

Talking to Lautenberg, who has served in the Senate twice — dating back to 1983 — you cannot help but get the distinct impression that the Democrat only has a few more fights left in him. After all, his term ends in 2014, when he will be 90.

But this year Lautenberg appears more likely to get something done from his perch as chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health Subcommittee. He notably began holding stakeholder meetings on the issue with Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) recently — signaling the possibility of Republican support that has never existed before — and says this year may be different (E&E Daily, June 15).

“We’ve got ourselves in position,” he said. “Persistence is our mantra. We keep chipping away at it.”

Lautenberg’s resilience on the issue has made him a hero to environmental groups who say that the 1976 law, the country’s only major environmental statute to never receive a congressional update, is woefully inadequate. Such groups say that for Lautenberg — who has had such accomplishments as banning smoking from airplanes — TSCA reform has become his holy grail, his legacy.

“He’s really been dogged,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. “This is a guy who has really been a courageous public health champion and this would be the environmental crown on his career.”

Family motivation

Lautenberg’s dedication to TSCA reform is deeply rooted in personal terms.

Many years ago, Lautenberg’s sister Marian Rosenstadt was diagnosed with asthma. She had a machine in her car, he said, that helped her during attacks.

At a school board meeting in Rye, N.Y., she felt such an attack coming on. She rushed out to her car but did not make it in time, passing out near the parking lot.

Three days later, she died at the hospital. She was 53 years old.

Lautenberg also has 13 grandchildren, some of whom have similar afflictions. One has severe asthma, another has diabetes.

“When you know how devastating some of these conditions can be, and you can prevent it …” he said, before his voice broke up slightly.

Lautenberg grew up poor, the son of Eastern European immigrants. His father died of cancer when Lautenberg was still a teenager. After serving in World War II, he went to Columbia University on the GI bill — and later started a successful paycheck processing company. One of the richest members of Congress, he has never forgotten where he came from — or the role government can play in improving people’s lives.

“I see lots of little children here,” he went on. “I love every one of these little ones. I’d like to see them healthy. … If I want my grandchildren to breathe clean air, I have to get everyone’s grandchildren to breathe clean air. Those are the fundamentals that move me along.”

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From Scientific American:

The French parliament voted on June 30 to ban the controversial technique for extracting natural gas from shale rock deposits known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the web sites of Le Monde and other French media reported.

The bill had already passed the National Assembly, the country’s lower chamber, on June 21, and on June 30 a Senate vote of 176 to 151 made France the first country to enact such a ban, just as New York State is preparing to lift a moratorium on the same method.

The vote was divided along party lines, with the majority conservative party voting in favor and the opposition voting against the bill, according to Le Monde. The Socialist Party, in particular, opposed the bill because it did not go far enough. The bill’s critics said that it left open possible loopholes and that in particular it does not prevent the exploitation of oil shale deposits by techniques other than fracking. An earlier version of the bill, which the Socialists had supported, would have banned any kind of development of the deposits, Le Monde reported.

Companies that currently own permits for drilling in oil shale deposits on French land will have two months to notify the state what extraction technique they use. If they declare to be using fracking, or if they fail to respond, their permits will be automatically revoked.

Fracking requires the injection of vast quantities of water and potentially hazardous chemicals into the ground to force the release of natural gas. The U.S. government is investigating the environmental impact of the technique, which critics say produces toxic waste and pollutes water wells.

In my recent interview of Drs. Carlos Sonnenschein and Ana Soto, I asked them about how they thought chemicals and the chemical industry should be regulated to better protect human health. Here is the second of two portions of that exchange (duration: 14:27).

Drs. Sonnenschein and Soto respond to the following prompts:

  1. How can a consumer live safely in a toxic environment? 00:40
  2. Can you give me an example of a specific regulation that you would like to see enacted? 03:50
  3. Do we need to change our regulatory mindset in this country? 04:20
  4. What do you mean by the “white paper” approach to regulating chemical?07:50
  5. What is green chemistry? 10:20
  6. What are the impediments to effective regulation, and how is that we overcome them? 11:00

The full, edited interview is now available on the Upstream Website.

From The Globe and Mail:

Canada has become the first jurisdiction in the world to declare the everyday plastic-making compound bisphenol A to be toxic, an action that, while hailed by environmentalists, is shining a spotlight on the major use of the chemical in nearly all food and beverage cans sold in the country.

The federal government on Wednesday formally added BPA, as it is commonly known, to its toxic substances list based on concern about possible risk to fetuses and babies. The man-made chemical has been shown in scientific experiments to mimic the hormone estrogen, and is not naturally found in the environment.

The listing is the final regulatory step by the government after an exhaustive four-year study. Earlier, the review prompted Health Canada to ban the substance from polycarbonate plastic baby bottles and to ask infant food makers to get it out of baby formula packaging.

A Statistics Canada survey earlier this year found that 91 per cent of Canadians had the substance in their bodies.

Critics of the chemical want Canada to extend a BPA ban to all food and beverage cans, and not just those to which babies might be exposed, suggesting that the debate over the safety of the material is unlikely to subside. BPA is applied as an epoxy to can liners to help preserve food, but trace amounts leach from the containers and are ingested.

“The government needs to take the next step and protect the general Canadian population from this chemical,” contends Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, an advocacy group.

He said the finding that traces of the chemical are found in nearly all people in the country is “cause for significant concern.”

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From AP:



Executive Summary

The 33-year old law that was supposed to ensure that Americans know what chemicals are in use around them, and what health and safety hazards they might pose, has produced a regulatory black hole, a place where information goes in – but much never comes out. The reason is that under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the chemical industry has been allowed to stamp a “trade secret” claim on the identity of two-thirds of all chemicals introduced to the market in the last 27 years, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis of data obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These include substances used in numerous consumer and children’s products.

EWG’s analysis also showed that:

  • The public has no access to any information about approximately 17,000 of the more than 83,000 chemicals on the master inventory compiled by the EPA.
  • Industry has placed “confidential business information” (CBI) claims on the identity of 13,596 new chemicals produced since 1976 – nearly two-thirds of the 20,403 chemicals added to the list in the past 33 years.
  • Secrecy claims directly threaten human health. Under section 8(e) of TSCA, companies must turn over all data showing that a chemical presents “a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment.” By definition compounds with 8(e) filings are the chemicals of the greatest health concern. In the first eight months of 2009 industry concealed the identity of the chemicals in more than half the studies submitted under 8(e).
  • From 1990 to 2005, the number of confidential chemicals more than quadrupled – from 261 to 1,105 — on the sub-inventory of substances produced or imported in significant amounts (more than 25,000 pounds a year in at least one facility). In July 2009 the EPA released the identity of 530 of these chemicals, lowering the number of these moderate- and highproduction
    volume secret chemicals to 575.
  • At least 10 of the 151 high volume confidential chemicals produced or imported in amounts greater than 300,000 pounds a year are used in products specifically intended for use by children age 14 or younger. TSCA is an extraordinarily ineffective law. Its failings have been repeatedly documented by the Government Accountability Office, Congressional hearings, and independent investigations. But it has generally been assumed that the law required an accurate public inventory of chemicals produced or imported in the United States.

As this investigation shows, it does not.

Instead we have a de-facto witness protection program for chemicals, made possible by a weak law that allows broad confidential business information (CBI) claims, made worse by EPA’s historic deference to business assertions of CBI.

EPA data compiled in response to an EWG information request show that a large number of these secret chemicals are used everyday in consumer products, including artists’ supplies, plastic products, fabrics and apparel, furniture and items intended for use by children. But EPA cannot share specific information on these chemicals even within the agency or with state and local officials.

Industry has a stranglehold on every aspect of information needed to implement even the most basic health protections from chemicals in consumer products and our environment. This must be changed. A chemical’s identify and all related health and safety information must be made available to the public with no exceptions.

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You can download the entire report here.

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