Senate hears testimony on toxics; Lawn-care firms sue over pesticide ban; Go New Hampshire....
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Senators heard testimony this week about how exposure to toxic chemicals may be linked to learning and developmental problems like autism, and how biomonitoring could strengthen the federal government's ability to protect the public from toxic chemicals. At a Senate subcommittee hearing on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health, public health advocates presented Mind, Disrupted, a biomonitoring project documenting dozens of neurotoxic chemicals in the bodies of adults who experienced developmental delays themselves or in their families. Each of the 12 volunteer participants in the study, which used biomonitoring to measure chemical in blood and urine, tested positive for at least 26 of the 89 measured chemicals. Overall, 61 chemicals known or suspected to cause neurological damage were present in the bodies of study participants. While the Mind, Disrupted report (PDF) doesn't claim that specific chemicals found can be blamed for the participants' health problems, it raises the question of the risks such chemicals—found in everyday products such as baby bottles, computers and conventionally grown produce—may pose to public health.
TSCA reform: This week's Senate hearing was part of ongoing discussions in Congress about updating the national law governing industrial chemicals, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Many scientists and environmental health advocates cite the fact that U.S. EPA has evaluated just 200 of the estimated 80,000 industrial chemicals in commerce—and banned only five—as evidence of TSCA’s failure to protect the health of consumers. A coalition of more than 120 organizations called Safer Chemicals Healthy Families is pressing for a fundamental overhaul of the 30 -year-old law to better protect the public from toxic chemicals. Such advocates argue that methods like biomonitoring to test for chemical exposure could play an important role in strengthening TSCA. “A strong biomonitoring program could provide the evidence regulators need to take action reducing exposures of concern," says Margaret Reeves, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network. "A program designed to include key geographic and demographic information would enable regulators to target policies to best protect those most exposed such as workers, infants and children, the elderly or immune-suppressed individuals.”
In designing a national biomonitoring program EPA could look to California’s precedent-setting Environmental Contaminants Biomonitoring Program passed into law in 2006. Key elements of the California program include community participation in selecting target chemicals, and the right of those tested to receive their individual test results. Subcommittee Chair Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is expected to introduce a TSCA reform bill soon that may include biomonitoring as a means to decide which chemicals should be prioritized for evaluation.
Ontario lawn-care companies are taking legal action against doctors, public health officials, and environmentalists who publicly lobbied for a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides. An individual representing approximately 400 residential lawn companies claims that the ban, which took effect on Earth Day last spring, could cost the industry more than $300 million and was based on a falsified health study from the Ontario College of Family Physicians. The College stands behind its study, calling the lawn-care companies' claims baseless. Among those targeted by the request for charges are members of the Ontario College of Family Physicians, the Canadian Cancer Society, and Canadian Associate of Physicians for the Environment. The same individual, Kingston resident Jeffrey Lowes, also asked for charges against Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen and five senior officials who worked on the ban in a separate action. The charges against government officials are thought to have very little chance of proceeding. Environmentalists and physicians named in the suit -- who do not share the relative immunity of government officials -- say that making the case for laws that are being considered is an important part of the democratic process that should not be subject to “frivolous legal disputes by companies or individuals opposed to regulatory actions.” Across Canada, Nova Scotia and British Columbia are currently considering similar bans. Quebec phased its ban into effect between 2003 and 2006 and now contains the strictest standards in North America. Quebec's ban prompted Dow Agrosciences to file a notice of intent to seek compensation under the investor protection provisions North American Free Trade Agreement.
Next week the New Hampshire state legislature will debate House Bill 1456, which would create a committee to “Study the effects of a moratorium on the use of…pesticides and herbicides…in residential neighborhoods, school properties, playgrounds, and other places children congregate.” The bill, sponsored by Rep. Suzanne Smith, is inspired by the movement to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides that is sweeping across Canada: cities from coast to coast, and the provinces of Quebec, Ontario—and most recently New Brunswick— have all enacted bans on lawn care pesticides, and other provinces are considering similar measures. Such a moratorium in New Hampshire would be the first in the States. HB 1456 would not actually ban anything—it would only establish a committee to explore the consequences of a ban—but already the pesticide corporations are circling their wagons. Industry groups have reportedly sent notices to every lawn care professional in the state urging them to lobby against the bill. Meanwhile, public health and environmental advocates are working hard to educate legislators on the issue. The LEAH Collective and other local groups will hold a screening the film “A Chemical Reaction” for legislators, and the filmmaker, Paul Tukey, will testify before the legislature. The feature-length documentary tells the story of the Canadian movement to ban lawn and landscape pesticides. According to Tukey, "the chemical industry is clearly threatened by this bill and they'll fight it every inch of the way. But this bill is just the start
of a tidalwave that the chemical industry can't stop."