A recent Op-Ed by Ecology Center's Deputy Director, Rebecca Meuninck.
I've always had a close connection to Great Lakes and our many inland waters, like the lake I grew up on in southwest Michigan. In the Great Lakes region, water is intimately connected to human health, our economic vitality and our way of life. You can't live her long without understanding how important those bodies of water are to our lives, either as places of recreation or sources of livelihoods.
I've spent a good part of my professional life working to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, our beloved Michigan waters are now contaminated with toxic chemicals linked to learning disabilities, infertility, and even cancer. It would be bad enough if these chemicals just stayed in the sediment and water. But those toxic chemicals also find their way into fish, birds, and other wildlife, and eventually, they end up in all of us.
Many of the toxic chemicals found in our lakes and in our bodies get there by migrating out of the household products we use every day. Studies conducted in Michigan have found heavy metals, bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, toxic flame retardants and many more nasty chemicals in children's products, furniture, cars and our homes.
These are just a few of many reasons why efforts underway in Washington D.C., to reform our national policy to regulate chemicals in everyday products couldn't be more urgent. The centerpiece of that policy is the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. The act, which became law in 1976, is both out of date and lacks the teeth to protect Americans and our environment from toxic chemicals. In fact, the EPA has only assessed approximately 200 chemicals out of about 83,000 in commerce, and it has banned or restricted the use of just five.
The encouraging news is that in 2015, Congress at long last began to overhaul TSCA. As they return to Washington for the new year, leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives – including Congressman Fred Upton, who represents Michigan's 6th District and, as chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, has played an instrumental role in ushering the reform along – are meeting to reconcile differences in their own versions of the new legislation. We're hopeful that they are on track to producing a bill that health and environmental organizations will view as real reform.
The bills that came out of the House and Senate are complex, containing many important – and, as you might guess, contentious – elements. So they're difficult to summarize. But two provisions, in particular, have been of concern to public health advocates.
First, a loophole in the Senate bill would make it harder for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to identify and ban imported products with toxic chemicals. That loophole would allow foreign-made toys, furniture, and other consumer products containing harmful chemicals to be sold in U.S. stores. It's in the best interest of Michigan-based manufacturers, retailers, workers, and consumers to have better protections against hazardous imported products, not to make it easier for toxic imports to get on store shelves.
Second, the House version of the act contains stronger provisions than its Senate counterpart regarding the protection of states' rights to pass chemical regulations to protect public health and the environment. States are more flexible than the federal government and can often act more quickly to address concerns that are unique to their environment and residents. For example, states such as Michigan led the way in banning certain toxic flame retardants called PBDEs that were building up in our environment contaminating fish, wildlife, and people in the state. It was only after Michigan passed bans on PBDEs that the federal government finally took action.
We urge Congressman Upton to continue to fight to strengthen states' rights to prevent the import of products containing toxic chemicals and to protect their residents. Real reform is needed to protect our health and the health of our Great Lakes. Fortunately, it is not too late to make critical improvements to this legislation before it gets to the president's desk.
Links to more TSCA reform information
Click here to sign a petition to Congressman Upton asking him and the rest of the conference committee to make these critical improvements to the legislation.
December 18th Press Release regarding Senate Passage of TSCA reform bill