GAO Finds Fault With EPA
Study Faults Limited U.S. Safety Reviews
JOHN HEILPRIN / AP 13jul2005
Chemical Regulation: Options Exist to Improve EPAs Ability to
Assess Health Risks and Manage Its Chemical Review Program
GAO Report to Congressional Requesters 13jul2005
WASHINGTON The government has provided only "limited assurance" that the 700 new chemicals entering the marketplace each year are safe and won't harm the environment, Congress' investigative arm reported Wednesday.
The Government Accountability Office's report to three Democratic senators said Congress should strengthen the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act to give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to require more test data from chemical manufacturers, and to share that data publicly.
"Most chemicals used in consumer products today have never undergone any federal safety review," said Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., ranking minority member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "We do know, however, that most of us are carrying in our bodies dozens if not hundreds of synthetic chemicals to which our grandparents were never exposed."
Separately, the Environmental Working Group is reporting Thursday that an average of 200 industrial and commercial chemicals including PCBs, pesticides and fire retardants were found in 10 babies at birth.
The group's research, peer-reviewed by eight physicians and a toxicologist, looked at umbilical cord blood from the babies, born last August and September in U.S. hospitals. The blood was bought from the American Red Cross, which approved the research, and then sent to two Canadian commercial research laboratories for analysis.
The group said it asked the labs to check for 413 industrial and consumer product chemicals and found 287 in the babies' blood, including some thought to cause cancer or harm nerves or cause birth defects.
"What we need is a top-to-bottom rewrite of the safeguards we have to protect people from exposures to industrial chemicals," said Jane Houlihan, the group's vice president for research.
The senators' release of the GAO report coincided with a legislative proposal Wednesday by Jeffords and six Democrats that they said would protect more children from harmful chemical exposure. It would require chemical makers to demonstrate to the EPA that "a reasonable certainty of no harm" exists before putting a chemical on the market.
Currently, the EPA has to demonstrate a chemical poses an "unreasonable risk" to restrict or ban it. But uncertainty about what that means, combined with another requirement that the agency balance costs and benefits, has made it difficult for the EPA to ban any chemical.
The American Chemistry Council, a trade group, said the law already gives the EPA adequate tools to judge the risks of chemicals and "chemicals makers have a long history of working closely with EPA to make publicly available safety information on chemicals."
Erik Olson, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said the bill, if passed, would be "a major step forward."
"It's so arcane and complicated that it's almost impossible to regulate," Olson said. In 1991, a federal appeals court in New Orleans overturned a 1989 EPA rule banning most asbestos-containing products. Olson said that court ruling created "so many hurdles" for the EPA's regulation of other chemicals as well.