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Chemical Safety Bill Criticized for Lack of Consumer Protections

PHOTO: Public health advocates, environmental groups and chemical workers' unions say an industry-backed bill, S 697, changing the way the federal government regulates dangerous chemicals, would do nothing to prevent chemical spills such as the one that brought protesters to the State Capitol last year. Photo credit: Dan Heyman.
PHOTO: Public health advocates, environmental groups and chemical workers' unions say an industry-backed bill, S 697, changing the way the federal government regulates dangerous chemicals, would do nothing to prevent chemical spills such as the one that brought protesters to the State Capitol last year. Photo credit: Dan Heyman.
April 28, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - An industry-backed bill changing the way the federal government regulates dangerous chemicals wouldn't do enough to protect West Virginia families, watchdogs say.

The Vitter-Udall bill now being considered by a Senate committee is drawing criticism from public health advocates, environmental groups and chemical workers' unions. In too many cases, said Maya Nye, executive director of "People Concerned About Chemical Safety," Senate Bill 697 would tie the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency, which only would test a handful of thousands of chemicals.

"MCHM is not one of them, and the current draft of this bill wouldn't require that that chemical or chemicals like it are tested," she said. "So, this bill would not prevent another Elk River chemical spill."

Watchdogs say slow safety testing and grandfathering under the current law mean that nearly 62,000 chemicals are being sold despite unknown impacts. They say the EPA would test only a handful of these substances in the years after this bill became law.

Andy Igrejas, director of the group "Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families," said the corporations are using money and lobbying muscle to get senators to support a bill that is too weak.

"Because of a major push by the chemical industry itself," he said, "you have a number of senators on board with this legislation for something that is not protective of public health and the environment."

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., are supporting the bill. Nye said she thinks they should be pressing for more local control in the legislation. The current bill prevents the states from regulating substances in most cases, she said, adding that she views that as an important safeguard.

"California regulates more chemicals than the federal government does," she said, "and it would prevent states from being able to do that."

Chemical regulation reform has been gridlocked for years, so the watchdog groups say the public now is subject to exposure because of a huge backlog of untested chemicals. Supporters say the bill is intended to deal with that, but critics say it was largely written on industry terms, the result of lobbying and campaign spending by chemical manufacturers.

Information on the bill is online at govtrack.us.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV