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Experts: New Toxic Chemical Bill Won't Protect Michigan

PHOTO: Toxins in Great Lakes fish are on the rise, and health and environmental advocates are concerned that proposed revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act would actually roll back some protections, and give states less power to deal with the problem. Photo credit: Jason Gillman/Morguefile.
PHOTO: Toxins in Great Lakes fish are on the rise, and health and environmental advocates are concerned that proposed revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act would actually roll back some protections, and give states less power to deal with the problem. Photo credit: Jason Gillman/Morguefile.
April 28, 2015

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The federal law designed to protect the public from toxic chemicals is getting an update, but some say it doesn't go far enough, and could actually put Michigan families at risk.

Andy Igrejas, director of the watchdog group Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, says most people are aware of the presence of hazardous chemicals in cleaning products, detergents and some plastics. But he says people may not be aware of how many other chemicals enter their homes through the manufacturing process.

"Not all chemicals are toxic, but there's no real system to identify the ones that are toxic," says Igrejas. "We need to put in place appropriate restrictions to ensure they are used safely. If there is no way to use them safely, see that they're banned."

Recent studies have found high levels of toxic chemicals in several brands of vinyl flooring sold at major retailers.

The Toxic Substances Control Act hasn't been updated in nearly 40 years, but consumer advocates say the new bill doesn't adequately protect public health or the environment when it comes to identifying and restricting the use of known toxins.

Rebecca Meuninck with the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, says strong protections against toxic chemicals should be of particular concern to Michiganders.

"We actually have quite a few of them building up in our Great Lakes ecosystem," she says. "For folks who enjoy Great Lakes fish, like I do, we have them in our bodies as a result of this."

Meuninck adds that under the proposed bill, states like Michigan would be powerless to take action to restrict those toxins until a lengthy review could take place at the federal level.

"Unfortunately, the EPA could take a very long time," says Meuninck. "A minimum of seven years, and perhaps much longer, to regulate that chemical. That really leaves us vulnerable in the meantime. "

Public health watchdogs have also raised concerns that some of the bill's biggest backers - including its primary sponsor, New Mexico Senator Tom Udall - have received large campaign contributions from the chemical industry.

Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters are co-sponsors of Senate Bill 697, and have expressed a willingness to work toward further strengthening the bill's protections.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI