We all get mighty riled up when a couple of malcontents pack sharps into a pressure cooker at a famous sporting event. Completely understandable, particularly here on the east coast; that’s a fear we feel in our bones here, the way Boston feels it now.
But while America was glued to the Boston manhunt after the pressure cooker bombs, by comparison the media barely registered the town-leveling explosion in West, Texas – with much larger loss of life – ditto what the failures of its regulation signify for American workplace safety around chemicals, ditto the fact that some members of the smaller-government faction that want federal dollars spent on the damage from what may be a company’s negligence, while displaced Sandy victims are beneath their concern.
Chemicals, and our everyday life with them, in our work, in our bodies, should be a sexy topic for the media. It’s not. Public health defenders should be hailed as rock stars. They’re not.
But that’s why I’m glad there are some grownups in Congress, though right now everything grownups do there seems like an uphill climb. Senators Lautenberg and Kirsten Gillibrand of NY got some decent news today from a report just released by the non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO’s report finds, essentially, that the EPA doesn’t have the ammunition it needs to protect us from toxic chemicals, because current law is flawed, which Lautenberg has said for a long time. Lautenberg and Gillibrand’s Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 would beef up the law and give EPA the tools it needs to collect health and safety information, screen chemicals for safety, and require risk management when chemicals cannot be proven safe.
We’re talking the stuff of your everyday life here – car seats, non-breakable plates for toddlers, detergents, your furniture, food packaging, electronics, vinyl products, non-stick cookware. What you’re touching, and breathing around right now. Testing by the CDC has found more than 212 industrial chemicals inside Americans’ bodies, including at least 6 known carcinogens and dozens linked to cancer, birth defects, other diseases.
Right now, EPA is severely limited in its ability to require safety testing for chemicals or limit harmful uses of toxic chemicals. They can require testing for only about 200 chemicals registered in the U.S. There are 84,000. Only 5 dangerous substances have been banned since the law was enacted – 37 years ago. In the chemical corridor that is New Jersey, that’s scary as hell.