Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Toxic shock

Federal rules to control toxic chemicals need to be tougher, but a House GOP bill would have the opposite effect

Do you take for granted that the chemicals used to make the food containers, furniture, toys, electronics, mattresses, and other products in your home are adequately tested and regulated for safety? Don’t — because they aren’t.

About 84,000 chemicals are registered for commercial and industrial use. Of these, more than 60,000 have not been reviewed for safety. Only a handful are subject to any federal rules.

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The federal law that governs regulation of toxic substances in consumer products is outdated and flawed; it needs basic reform. Yet some lawmakers are intent on weakening it further, to provide unwarranted relief to the chemical industry. That shouldn’t happen.

Toxic chemicals can leach out of consumer products into our bodies. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that such substances are in nearly every pregnant woman in the country. These chemicals are linked to cancer, autism, infertility, and learning disabilities.

Like 21 other states, Ohio has enacted some chemical restrictions of its own. It prohibits schools from buying mercury devices for classrooms, and bans mercury thermometers and thermostats. It regulates, after a fashion, the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) process to extract oil and natural gas from the state’s shales.

In a national — and global — marketplace, state-by-state regulation is necessarily limited. So are actions by individual retailers, however useful, to restrict dangerous chemicals. Tough federal standards also are needed to get the job done. At the very least, the current standards shouldn’t be rolled back.

Yet a “reform” bill proposed by House Republicans would diminish federal policy affecting commercial chemicals. It seeks to pre-empt state and local laws and regulations that govern toxic chemicals — including those used in fracking.

Environmental and public-health advocates argue credibly that the House bill would hamper states’ ability to prevent — or obtain proper disclosure of — fracking chemicals, even in an emergency. The measure would limit state tests of chemicals in water used for fracking before it is disposed of in injection wells. These changes would bring a major new source of uncertainty to fracking regulation.

The House proposal also would make it harder for states to manage risks posed by other toxic chemicals, both existing and new ones. At the federal level, the measure would reduce the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate new chemicals.

The bill would hamper the EPA’s ability to impose measures that evaluate and manage the risk posed by commercial chemicals, even those designed to protect pregnant women and children. It would compromise public knowledge about the safety of toxic chemicals.

A better approach would modernize and toughen the federal toxic-substance control law. It would encourage and strengthen federal-state partnerships on regulation of toxic chemicals.

It would allow the EPA to meet its duty to protect public health and safety through meaningful information-gathering and oversight. On all these counts, the House bill would do the opposite.

Two members of Ohio’s U.S. House delegation, Republicans Bob Latta of Bowling Green and Bill Johnson of Marietta, sit on the committee that will act on — or preferably kill — the GOP toxics bill. In an election year, how these lawmakers act on the measure will be especially instructive to their constituents.

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