THE BLOG
12/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Oh, So the "P" Stand For Protection -- I'd Forgotten

It is emblematic of the past eight years that, when EPA Administrator Jackson explained, first at a dinner in San Francisco and then at Governor Schwarzenegger's Climate Summit in L.A., that her agency was actually going to use the Toxic Substances Control Act to protect Americans from dangerous chemicals, and actually had the guts to ask Congress to fix the badly broken law, I was kind of shocked -- pleasantly shocked, to be sure, but still surprised.

Jackson's principles, as posted on the EPA's website, don't sound that radical.They aren't even wrapped in the usual bureaucratic jargon, but I've still added my own gloss after each one.

Principle #1: Chemicals Should Be Reviewed ... on Sound Science

(Science, not politics, should determine safety.)

Principle #2: Manufacturers Should Provide EPA with the Necessary Information... that New and Existing Chemicals are Safe

(Show us it's safe.)

Principle #3: Risk-Management Decisions Should Take into Account Sensitive Subpopulations

(Kids matter.)

Principle #4: Manufacturers and EPA Should Act in a Timely Manner.

(Don't fiddle around while people die.)

Principle #5: Public Access to Information Should Be Strengthened

(No more secrecy)

Principle #6: EPA Should Be Given a Sustained Source of Funding

(It takes money to keep us safe.)

Jackson followed the "no more secrecy" principal by naming the most egregious chemicals of concern:  benzidene dyes and pigments, bisphenol A (plastics), PBDEs (flame retardants), perfluorinated chemicals (non-stick and stain-resistant coatings), phthalates (plastics and personal care products), and short-chained chlorinated paraffins (flame retardants and plasticizers)

Unless you are very unusual, these are already in your body. All of them. They have either not been tested for safety or have been tested and found wanting.

Jackson expressed her hope that the chemical industry would cooperate with the EPA in getting the necessary amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act to carry out these principals.

Chemical producers are worried not only about facing an inconsistent patchwork of state laws, but believe that their industry can thrive only if the public is confident that their products meet rigorous safety standards. And they want the U.S. to lead the world in chemical risk management, not fall further behind.

Well, maybe. I would be more optimistic if I hadn't been watching the reactionary right gear up to block the nomination of David Michaels, Obama's designee to lead the workplace equivalent of the EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. One of the centerpieces of the growing smear against Michaels is his role in exposing the toxic hazards of bisphenol A. Here's a sample from the Family Research Council:

At a time when the unemployment rate is nearing double-digits, President Obama's OSHA nominee, David Michaels, threatens to be an occupational hazard.

He's also a radical. Conservatives who were outraged by Van Jones should be apoplectic about his tenure when they consider that -- according to their website -- OSHA "inspected 38,579 workplaces during Fiscal Year 2006."

David Michaels was behind the junk-science efforts to smear Bisphenol A (BPA), an innovative chemical used to make plastics stronger.

The anti-BPA scare-campaign cost consumers untold millions of dollars and untold numbers of jobs. That's not to mention the amount of emotional damage this junk-science inflicted on Americans who were sure they had harmed their baby by giving them the wrong plastic bottle. ... Oh yeah, Michaels' [sic] also helped line the pockets of trial lawyers who made money by suing manufacturers of products made with BPA. All of this, despite countless evidence that BPA was safe.

Now what are the scientific credentials of the author of this attack? It turns out it is Kenneth Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate. Blackwell does have a graduate degree -- in educational psychology, not toxicology. Even allowing for the usual level of hyperbole in today's media, precisely how many jobs does he mean by "untold"?

Well, a Google search revealed no studies documenting any job losses from bans on bisphenol A, so the reason this job-loss story has never been told may be because there is no story to tell. There's a difference between saying "there are countless stars in the heavens" and "there are countless UFO's on the White House lawn." The job loss from "junk" bisphenol A science appears to belong is the second category -- countless because it's fictional. 

Unfortunately, the American Chemistry Council, which Administrator Jackson is hoping to herd into supporting her reforms, is part of the "bisphenol A belongs in baby bottles" faction -- so my guess is that we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and do some heavy lifting if we want to see the EPA's new toxics-reform agenda move through Congress.

Get ready.