Health and Wellness

Building the case for chemical policy reform

Over the past three decades, we have become increasingly aware of the impact that our environment, and chemical exposures in particular, has on our nation’s health. We know that toxic exposures occur not only in the workplace, but also in our homes, through the products we buy and the building materials we use.

The Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) was enacted by U.S. Congress on October 11, 1976, and went into effect on January 1, 1977, with the intent of regulating the use of toxic substances. Through TSCA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was empowered to study chemicals and limit or ban their manufacture or use. Unfortunately, TSCA permitted chemicals in existence prior to enactment to be used without any additional safety testing, creating knowledge gaps about the potential harmful effects these “grandfathered” chemicals may pose. Much has changed since 1976, but despite TSCA being enacted, EPA has only been able to require testing on 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals produced and used in the U. S. And, in fact, only five chemicals have been regulated under TSCA.

Recent scientific findings have led to a better understanding of the impact of chemicals on human health and the burden of increasing rates of serious illnesses that include cancer, reproductive disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, and asthma. However, due to the ineffectiveness of TSCA, there is an urgent need—and growing momentum—for chemical reform in the U.S. The goal of this reform would be twofold: 1) to reduce the role of chemical exposures on the burden of disease; and 2) to put the responsibility for chemical safety on chemical manufacturers while giving EPA the authority to take appropriate action on chemicals.

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition consisting of diverse groups linked by a common concern surrounding protection from chemical exposures, released a report titled “The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act” on January 21, 2010. This report was developed by reviewing five peer-reviewed studies and reviews of scientific literature that referenced over 1,200 published papers and reports linking six categories of chronic conditions to chemical exposures.

Reported findings include the following:

  • The National Cancer Institute estimates that 44% of men and 38% of women in the U.S. will receive a diagnosis of cancer at some time in their lives.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to triple by 2050 to 13 million.
  • Parkinson’s disease is expected to double by 2030.
  • Reproductive health and fertility problems are on the rise in women, men, and children.
  • Asthma has become the most common childhood chronic disease, doubling between 1980 and 1995 in the U.S.

The report also addresses the economic impact of exposure to toxic substances. The coalition believes that TSCA reform will result in a reduction of exposure to toxic chemicals, leading to improved public health and the reduction of associated health care costs. According to the report, even if chemical policy reform would reduce chemical exposures into just a tenth of one percent of health care costs, it would save the U.S. health care system an estimated five billion dollars each year. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson included in her speech to the American Public Health Association in November 2009 that a decline in toxic chemicals exposure will result in reduced rates of chronic disease and lower health care costs, and must be addressed to strengthen our economy.

As a member of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, ANA continues to advocate for and support chemical policy reform. ANA recognizes the potential to reduce toxic chemical exposures that contribute to the disease burden; this would improve the public’s overall health and reduce health care costs in the U.S. We cannot wait any longer to provide protection to U.S. residents through TSCA reform.

The report, “The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act,” can be accessed in its entirety at: http://healthreport.saferchemicals.org/.

Nancy Hughes, MS, RN is the Director, Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at ANA.

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One thought on “Building the case for chemical policy reform”

  1. Catherine Stirling Gould BSN, RN says:

    I am heartened by this effort to begin advocacy for improved testing and control of the avalanche of chemicals, and informing the public of the health risks. Truly great!
    I would like to see at least one addition: the new CFC light bulbs promoted for saving carbon emissions contain mercury, with which our seafood and environment are overwhelming poisoned. We need to promote safe disposal of these, in addition to recycling of electronics including batteries which contain dangerous substances.

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