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Great Lakes Groups Urge Congress to Protect the Lakes Through Chemical Reform Law

April 2, 2010

Prior to the expected release of major legislation this month, 60 Great Lakes groups sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to protect the Great Lakes region from the worst toxic chemicals as part of reforming our nation's chemical laws. The letters were signed by groups in all eight Great Lakes states, representing hundreds of thousands of residents in the region and widespread concern over past and present chemical contamination of the Lakes.

The letter urged Congress to take immediate action on the worst chemicals in commerce - toxic chemicals that don't break down in the environment, and build up in people, and in the food chain. Called persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic chemicals, (PBT's) these chemicals are considered the "most wanted" chemicals, because they can pose threats for generations, and are particularly prevalent and problematic in the Great Lakes.

"As you consider policy options for modernizing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), we urge you to support immediate action to address PBT's," the groups note. "Given the long-standing�commitment of the US Government to the virtual elimination of PBT's, and the near universal recognition of the problematic nature of these compounds, we urge you to prioritize PBT phase out under any TSCA revision, on an expeditious but reasonable timeline, with exceptions allowed for critical uses that lack viable alternatives." The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation's current law to regulate chemicals, has not been updated in 34 years, the only major environmental statute that has not been reauthorized since it was originally written. Because current regulations provide the EPA with little regulatory authority, the EPA has been able to require comprehensive testing of just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals produced and used in the U.S., and only five groups of chemicals have been regulated under the law.

Noting the link between the ecological and economic viability of the Great Lakes, the groups said: "PBT chemicals continue to pose an economic threat to the region's $7 billion fisheries industry and the $16 billion tourism industry, while also threatening public health. The legacy of contamination from PBT's already released to the Great Lakes will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars to cleanup."

The groups emphasized the vulnerability of the Great Lakes ecosystem, and the evidence suggesting significant widespread, long-term adverse impacts of these chemicals on the health of people and wildlife in the region. Governments at all levels, international agreements, authoritative scientific bodies, and leading companies have long since adopted policies acknowledging the special nature of PBT's, and the need to eliminate unnecessary uses. The letter urges Congress to follow that lead.

Read the letter (PDF).

For more information, contact:
Tracey Easthope, Ecology Center, 734-663-2400 x 109