persistent chemicals

Environmental regulator tells Congress: U.S. efforts to regulate toxics are a failure

It’s been more than 30 years since Congress passed a law called the Toxic Substances Control Act. It hasn’t controlled many toxics, though. And today a high-ranking environmental regulator from the Pacific Northwest told members of Congress that the nation’s efforts to keep people safe from harmful chemicals just aren’t cutting it.

Ted Sturdevant, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, rattled off a list of steps taken to control toxics in his state, including banning the flame retardant decaBDE and work to rein in mercury and lead. In fact, Washington was the first state to come up with multi-year plan to phase out so-called “persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic” chemicals, or PBTs, he told the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.

But Sturdevant’s testimony at the Congressional hearing quickly jumps to this point:

The truth is that our approach to protecting people and our environment from toxic chemicals is a failure. It’s a failure at the state level, and it’s a failure at the national level. We are failing to prevent avoidable harm to our children, we are failing to protect the food chain that sustains us, we are failing to save countless millions of taxpayer dollars that are wasted on health care costs and environmental cleanup, and we are failing to exercise common sense.

Wow. Strong words. He went on to describe what he thinks a common-sense system of regulations would entail:

• Look carefully at a chemical’s potential to harm before it is used in commerce.

• The government should be able to ban a chemical causing an “urgent and unacceptable” risk.