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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Testimony Before the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, As Prepared

10/26/2010
As prepared for delivery.

Good morning Senator Lautenberg. Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today to discuss the reform of chemicals management in the United States. I am pleased to be able to testify about the science on the environmental health effects from children’s exposure to toxic chemicals. Ensuring chemical safety in a rapidly changing world, restoring public confidence that EPA is protecting the American people, and promoting our global leadership in chemicals management is one of my top priorities for the Agency.

I want to personally thank you, Chairman Lautenberg, as well as members of your Committee for your leadership on this very important issue and your efforts to bring about comprehensive reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). As you well know, the time has come to bring TSCA into the 21st century and give the American people the protection from harmful chemicals they expect.

While chemicals have improved our lives in many ways, there are still significant scientific gaps in our understanding of the health risks of many chemicals. That’s why, increasingly, the public is demanding that the government provide an assurance about the long term safety of these chemicals.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was enacted in 1976, gives EPA jurisdiction over chemicals produced and used in the United States. TSCA is the only major environmental statute that has not been reauthorized. The TSCA Inventory currently contains over 84,000 chemicals, few of which have been studied for their risks to children. Unlike the laws applicable to drugs and pesticides, TSCA does not have a mandatory program where EPA must conduct a review to determine the safety of existing chemicals. In addition, TSCA places legal and procedural requirements on EPA before the Agency can request the generation and submission of health and environmental effects data on existing chemicals.

TSCA was an important step forward at the time. But over the years, not only has TSCA fallen behind the industry it is intended to regulate, it has also proven an inadequate tool for providing the protection against chemical risks that the public rightfully expects.

Ensuring that our children are protected from exposure to environmental threats is central to EPA’s work. Children face greater threats from environmental pollutants than adults due to differences in their physiology, activity patterns and development. And not all children are the same: we continue to see disparities in exposures and health outcomes among the poor, African American, Latino, Native American and other ethnic minorities. America’s Children and the Environment. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Children eat, drink and breathe more per pound than adults. When food, water, or air is polluted, children are exposed to more of the pollution than adults. For example, an average infant 3 months to less than 6 months old consumes approximately 2.5 times more water than an adult on a per pound basis.

Children can have greater exposure to chemicals through behaviors that are unique to childhood, such as crawling, putting objects in their mouths, and eating nonfood items. Children also have unique exposures, for example, through the umbilical cord and through breast milk. Their bodies are rapidly developing. Exposure to toxic chemicals during critical windows of development can lead to disease or other serious effects on organ systems.

Children’s rapid development during pregnancy and childhood may also increase their vulnerabilities to toxicants. For example, the nervous system begins to rapidly develop in the embryo only days after conception and continues to develop through puberty. Depending upon the toxicant, early exposures may have serious consequences throughout a child’s life.

When TSCA was enacted, it grandfathered in, without any evaluation, all chemicals in commerce that existed in 1976. Further compounding this problem, the statute never provided adequate authority for EPA to re-evaluate existing chemicals as new concerns arose or science was updated, and failed to grant EPA full and complete authority to compel companies to provide toxicity data. As a result, in the 34 years since TSCA was passed, EPA has only been able to require testing on around 200 of the 84,000 chemicals listed on the TSCA Inventory, and has regulated or banned five of these chemicals under TSCA authority.

It has also proven difficult in some cases to take action to limit or ban chemicals found to cause unreasonable risks to human health or the environment. Even if EPA has substantial data and wants to protect the public against known risks, the law creates obstacles to quick and effective regulatory action. For example, in 1989, after years of study and nearly unanimous scientific opinion about the risk, EPA issued a rule phasing out most uses of asbestos in products. Yet, a federal court overturned most of this action because the rule had failed to comply with the requirements of TSCA.

Today, advances in toxicology and analytical chemistry are revealing new pathways of exposure. There are subtle and troubling effects of many chemicals on hormone systems, human reproduction, intellectual development and cognition, particularly in young children.
It is clear that in order to properly protect public health and the environment, TSCA must be updated and strengthened, including providing the appropriate tools to protect the American people from exposure to harmful chemicals.

Last September, I announced a set of principles that articulate the Administration’s goals for updating TSCA that would enable EPA to expeditiously target chemicals of concern and promptly assess and regulate new and existing chemicals. I also announced that while the legislative reform process is underway, EPA intends to take steps to enhance its current chemical management program. As part of this effort, EPA has developed a number of action plans that communicate the Agency’s initial review of readily available use, exposure, and hazard information on a select number of chemicals, outline the Agency’s concerns with the chemicals, and identify the steps EPA is considering to address those concerns. We are also taking steps to increase the public’s access to chemical information that is provided to the Agency. This has included greater web access to a wider range of chemical information and implementing a series of steps to reduce claims of confidentiality, while recognizing that there can be legitimate business needs to protect information on chemicals.

As previously mentioned, the Administration has released a set of principles for TSCA reform that I would like to briefly highlight:

First, chemicals should be reviewed against safety standards that are based on sound science and reflect risk-based criteria protective of human health and the environment. EPA should have the clear authority to establish safety standards based on risk assessments, while recognizing the need to assess and manage risk in the face of uncertainty.

Second, the responsibility for providing adequate health and safety information should rest on industry. Manufacturers must develop and submit the hazard, use, and exposure data demonstrating that new and existing chemicals are safe.
If industry doesn’t provide the information, EPA should have the necessary tools to quickly and efficiently require testing, or obtain other information from manufacturers that are relevant to determining the safety of chemicals, without the delays and obstacles currently in place, or excessive claims of confidential business information.

Third, EPA should have clear authority to take risk management actions when chemicals do not meet the safety standard, with flexibility to take into account a range of considerations, including children’s health, economic costs, social benefits, and equity concerns. Both EPA and industry must include special consideration for exposures and effects on groups with higher vulnerabilities – particularly children. For example, children ingest chemicals at a higher ratio relative to their body weight than adults, and are more susceptible to long-term damage and developmental problems.

Fourth, EPA should have clear authority to set priorities for conducting safety reviews. on existing chemicals based on relevant risk and exposure considerations. In all cases, EPA and chemical producers must act on priority chemicals in a timely manner, with firm deadlines to maintain accountability. This will not only assure prompt protection of health and the environment, but provide business with the certainty that it needs for planning and investment.

Fifth, we must encourage innovation in green chemistry, and support research, education, recognition, and other strategies that will lead us down the road to safer and more sustainable chemicals and processes. All of this must happen with the utmost transparency and concern for the public’s right to know.

Finally, implementation of the law should be adequately and consistently funded, in order to meet the goal of assuring the safety of chemicals, and to maintain public confidence that EPA is meeting that goal. To that end, manufacturers of chemicals should support the costs of Agency implementation, including the review of information provided by manufacturers.

Mr. Chairman, TSCA needs to move toward the vision embodied in these principles. We should require that all chemicals be reviewed against a safety standard based on sound science and that reflects risk based criteria protective of human health and the environment, including the health of children and other vulnerable populations. We should squarely place the burden on industry to provide data to demonstrate that chemicals are safe. Legislative reform should give EPA significantly greater authority to require any data necessary to assess the safety of chemicals and to quickly take action on chemicals which cause harm. The substantial increase in information available on toxic chemicals would vastly improve the understanding of chemical risks and greatly enable government and the public to make better informed decisions about the chemicals that are in the products we use daily. These key elements represent a significant change in the approach the U.S. has historically taken in regulating chemicals and would substantially update and modernize TSCA.

Further, legislative reform of TSCA should address a number of other areas the Administration believers are important in modernizing this nation’s chemicals management efforts, such as encouraging the development and use of green chemistry and adoption of safer alternatives. It should impose stricter requirements for assertion of confidentiality claims while allowing the sharing of critical data – with appropriate safeguards – with state governments also regulating chemicals.

Mr. Chairman, we are most appreciative of your efforts to help us bring TSCA into the 21st Century and we look forward to continuing to work with you and your Committee as you move forward. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.