White House report calls for precautionary toxic chemical bans

06 May 2010 23:07  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--A new White House report issued on Thursday calls for precautionary prohibition of toxic or carcinogenic chemicals in order to protect the public even if there is no clear proof that the substances threaten human health.

Senator Fran Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey), sponsor of newly introduced legislation to modernise and broaden the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), said the report by the presidential cancer panel lended further support to the need for a major overhaul of federal regulation of chemicals in commerce.

Lautenberg, whose My Safe Chemicals Act (S-3209) has been described by industry leaders as exceeding the type of restrictive controls under the EU’s Reach programme, said the White House study demonstrated “the widespread health risks of chemical exposure”.

The study, he said, was “further evidence that America’s broken chemical safety laws must be reformed”.

The White House cancer panel report recommended as a first step that “A precautionary, prevention-oriented approach should replace current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminants in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure”.

The report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk”, included a section titled “A Call to Action”, that stated: “The burgeoning number and complexity of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compel us to act to protect public health, even though we may lack irrefutable proof of harm”.

The study singled out the nation’s chemicals sector, charging that “Industry has exploited regulatory weaknesses, such as government’s reactionary (rather than precautionary) approach to regulation”.

“Likewise, industry has exploited government’s use of an outdated methodology for assessing ‘attributable fractions’ of the cancer burden due to specific environmental exposures,” the report said, adding: “This methodology has been used effectively by industry to justify introducing untested chemicals into the environment.”

The three-member cancer panel said US regulation of chemicals and other environmental contaminants was rendered ineffective by inadequate funding and staffing for regulatory agencies, weak laws and rules, and “undue industry influence”.

The report said that many industrial chemicals or processes had “hazardous by-products or metabolites” and that numerous chemicals used in manufacturing “remain in or on the product as residues, while others are integral components of the products themselves”.

“Further, in the ongoing quest for more effective and efficient ways of making industrial and consumer products, new chemicals and other substances are being created continually and existing substances are being put to new uses” which suggests that “unanticipated environmental hazards may emerge from the push for progress”.

The study noted that while the number and mortality of cancer cases in the US had decreased overall, “the incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons”.

The panel members also called for more aggressive government policies to support green chemistry research and development.

“But new products must be well studied prior to and following their introduction into the environment and stringently regulated to ensure their short- and long-term safety,” the report said.

The study was based on testimony from 45 invited experts from academia, government, industry, the environmental and cancer advocacy communities and the public, the report summary said.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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