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The Tide Turns: At Long Last, Federal Chemical Regulation Given Priority

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It's a special moment when an advocate bears witness to a tidal shift in attitude and action around a cause. As the CEO and Executive Director of Healthy Child Healthy World, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting young children from harmful exposure to toxic chemicals, I experienced just that when EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced recently that her agency, with the backing of the White House, is ready to get tough on toxic chemicals.

With the change of Presidential administrations earlier this year, those of us calling for stricter, more comprehensive chemical regulation were filled with a renewed sense of hope. Under President Bush, chemical regulation was locked in a box and put away on the highest shelf. Most health issues, and almost all environmental ones, were ignored and openly de-prioritized. Though a discouraging climate, our resolve to bring awareness to these issues was strengthened; when the government refuses to act, it's up to concerned citizens to inform their communities and demand action. We've been awed by the passion of our supporters and the leaders of business and government helping to catalyze the movement. And now, with an open door in Washington, we're hopeful that our hard work will come to fruition.

Healthy Child Healthy World was founded by parents who lost their five year-old daughter to a non-genetic cancer believed to be linked to prenatal pesticide exposure. Their search for answers led to the realization that precious little is known about the health and environmental effects of the toxic chemicals in our food, homes, water, and consumer products, and that industry was more often than not unwilling to do due diligence before putting chemicals into commerce. Thus, we are all (unknowingly) left open to exposure, and being put at risk, every single day.

Indeed, the proliferation of industrial chemicals in our post-war world has had a catastrophic effect on Americans' health. Credible science and research has implicated chemical exposure in some of today's most pervasive illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, autism and ADHD. Without regulation, our most vulnerable population, our children, are the most at risk for long-term health damage from these exposures.

That's why today, Healthy Child Healthy World is building awareness among parents about the substances in their homes and environments and teaching them how to protect their families from harmful exposures. We're working with forward-thinking businesses that honor health and the environment and give consumers access to non-toxic products. We're supporting initiatives that will increase transparency, bolster regulatory policies, and fund research into how our environment impacts our health.

On September 29th, Administrator Jackson confirmed the EPA is formulating a new strategy, creating a list of high-priority chemicals to target (including BPA, phthalates, brominated flame retardants, and nonstick perfluorinated compounds), and considering an expansion of existing rules in order to control substances that threaten public health. With the support of the White House, Jackson and leadership in Congress are ready to write serious laws that will regulate chemicals for the protection of public health and preservation ofe the environment, without written-in loopholes and capitulation to the demands of industry.

The current regulatory process was established under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), which established a list of 60,000 existing chemicals and allowed their grandfathered use in commerce, almost entirely unchecked. As written, the EPA must navigate a labyrinthine and complex system to actually regulate a compound and they rely on voluntary safety testing data from the chemical manufacturers (thus there is little to go on and the findings are often biased). Without adequate funding to conduct its own testing, the result is inaction on a broad scale. In the 33 years since the TSCA was passed, the EPA has sought tests on only 200 of the over 82,000 chemicals in production, and restricted just five.

Concurrently, initiatives in Congress are gaining momentum. As our friends at Seventh Generation summarized recently:

"Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-CA) are writing new chemical regulation legislation to be introduced before year's end. Senator Lautenberg, and Representatives Waxman and Hilda L. Solis (D- CA) have also introduced the Kid-Safe Chemical Act, which would protect Americans, especially children, from toxic chemicals in consumer products. The bill would require the compounds used in baby bottles, children's toys, and other items be proven to be safe before they can be sold."

Healthy Child Healthy World supports these initiatives and has partnered with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a diverse nationwide coalition comprised of environmental groups, health professionals and others working to get it passed.

The principles of the rewrite would create a new paradigm, correcting the failings of the antiquated and ineffective chemical regulation system. We've never felt so optimistic about what's to come.

Join us, and join the movement at healthychild.org.