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Congress in May During the National Stroller Brigade
The second of two recent hearings in Washington shed some light on the chemical industry's relationship with politicians and the American public on the eve of an important vote on the Safe Chemicals Act. The proposed law would be the first major overhaul of the ineffective, 70s-era, Toxic Substances Control Act.
Former Maine Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree testified that she witnessed apparent dishonesty from the industry during the time she helped her state ban some toxic flame retardants. Testifying before a US Senate committee, Pingree said earnestly, "As a parent, I don't trust these companies to tell the truth about their chemicals and I don't think the American public or you as Senators should, either."
US Senator Barbara Boxer questioned spokesman Marshall Moore of Great Lakes Solutions, a Chemtura Business about questionable ethics raised in an investigative series by the Chicago Tribune
. She got little response on the topic of ethics. However, Moore stressed the need for fire safety protection and commented about the current system, "Based on our experience, the evaluation of new chemical substances has been effective and thorough."
"Firefighters are fully aware that we work in a chemical cocktail every time we enter a burning building," added retired firefighter and cancer survivor Tony Stefani. Other firefighters are getting help with cancer screenings and are taking part in environmental health studies because Stefani founded the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation
after concerns that too many fellow firefighters were coming down with rare cancers. Stefani cited chilling reports of what researchers are finding in his colleagues' blood after they fight a fire: levels of flame retardants 20 to 30 times higher than that of people in some other countries.
Dr. Heather Stapleton, Assistant Professor of Environmental Chemistry, Environment Sciences and Policy at Duke University, testified that the US government's own studies show 99% of the population has flame retardant chemicals in their bodies. Stapleton addressed what this means for children, "Studies have also shown that children have much higher body burdens of these chemicals compared to adults. This is a concern given that health studies found that higher body burdens of these chemicals were associated with reductions in IQ and motor skills in children, lower birth weights in infants, changes in hormone levels and a reduction in a woman’s potential to become pregnant. In my opinion this evidence warrants changes in the way these chemicals are currently applied to consumer products and highlights a need to reduce our exposures in vulnerable populations such as infants and children."
The Environmental Protection Agency's Jim Jones testified that the current system can't adequately ensure the safety of flame retardants or any other chemicals in consumer products. "The burden is on the EPA to determine that these products are not safe," Jones said Tuesday. At a hearing on the same topic last week, Jones had said, "There is no legal burden on the manufacturer to demonstrate to EPA or anyone else that the products they are selling are going to be safe."
Senator Boxer wrapped up Tuesday's hearing by posing a question to all of the panelists, "Do you agree that chemical manufacturers should have to prove through unbiased studies that their products are safe for pregnant women, infants, and children before they can sell those chemicals in the United States?" After a mixed response, she added, "If someone can't answer that question with an affirmative response, then they are putting the special interests before the health of the people, before the health of their own kids, before the health of the first responders...At the end of the day, the people are going to be on the side of making sure products are safe for pregnant women, for children, for infants and for the firefighters whom they revere."