Letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and 25 of his Senate colleagues sent a letter today calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finalize its proposed actions regarding a class of toxic flame retardant chemicals. The letter also acknowledges that the EPA has limited authority to fully protect the public from these toxic chemicals under the current Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and calls for reforms to the law to adequately protect American families from dangerous chemicals.

The letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is signed by Senators Lautenberg, Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Al Franken (D-MN), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jon Tester (D-MT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), John Kerry (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, introduced the "Safe Chemicals Act of 2011" last year to modernizeTSCA. The bill gives the EPA the tools it needs to require health and safety testing of toxic chemicals and places the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe.

Under current law, the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States, and has been able to regulate only five dangerous substances. The new legislation will give EPA more power to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals and require manufacturers to submit information proving the safety of every chemical in production and any new chemical seeking to enter the market.

The letter can be viewed here and the text is copied below:

July 9, 2012

Dear Administrator Jackson:

We are writing to express our support for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) actions to address a class of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These flame retardant chemicals are found in a number of everyday consumer products, including furniture, plastics, and even baby products. According to the EPA, these toxic chemicals are suspected to cause cancer and have been linked to serious neurological and reproductive diseases. We urge the agency to move forward as quickly as possible with its current efforts to protect American families from the toxic effects of PBDEs.

PBDEs are mixed into a number of household products in order to raise the temperature at which they burn, purportedly making the products more flame resistant. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that these chemicals do not provide any significant protection against the risk of fires. Instead, it has become clear that PBDEs can increase human health risks and that the chemicals easily spread and accumulate in the environment and living organisms, including people.

We are deeply alarmed that peer-reviewed research has found that a typical American baby is born with the highest recorded concentrations of flame retardants among infants in the world. This is a serious threat to our children's health because PBDEs interfere with the body's hormone systems, and studies in animals suggest they can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Researchers have found that children's exposure comes primarily through household dust, making babies and toddlers particularly vulnerable since they spend a significant amount of time playing on the floor.

Despite the danger to public health, a recent investigative report by the Chicago Tribune revealed that flame retardant manufacturers may have misled the public for decades regarding both the risks and efficacy of these chemicals. Due to industry opposition to common sense reforms at both the federal and state level that would limit the use of these chemicals, PBDEs and other flame retardants continue to be used in a significant number of everyday products.

In response, EPA has adopted an action plan for PBDEs using its existing authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This plan reflects the agency's assessment that PBDEs are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to both humans and the environment. Currently, the agency is accepting public comment on two paired rulemakings related to PBDEs. The first action would amend the current Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) to require any manufacturer, importer, or processor of seven different PBDEs, or articles containing them, to submit a notification to EPA at least 90 days before beginning new activities involving these chemicals. The second rulemaking would require those insisting on continuing to use these chemicals to develop the data EPA would need to fully evaluate the health and safety effects of this class of toxic chemicals. We support these efforts and urge EPA to finalize and implement these rulemakings as quickly as possible following the public comment period.

While we commend the EPA for taking steps to address PBDEs, it is concerning that the agency must undertake lengthy rulemaking processes merely to secure additional health and safety data on a chemical of concern and to receive notifications regarding expansions of its uses. Further, EPA is not evaluating steps to actually restrict existing unsafe production and uses of these toxic flame retardants. This reinforces why there is broad agreement that TSCA must be reformed to protect American families from dangerous chemicals in a cost-effective way and we urge you to continue to work with Congress to enact consensus reforms.

Americans deserve to know that the chemicals used in everyday consumer products are safe. EPA's current action to address the health risks of PBDEs is an important first step towards protecting Americans from the risks posed by these pervasive chemicals and look forward to working with you to enact these reforms.

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