Murkowski Working to Update “Eight Track Era” Chemical Protections for Alaskans

Senator Co-Sponsors Chemical Safety Improvement Act to Curb Threats of Birth Defects, Cancer

WASHINGTON, DC — Senator Lisa Murkowski today co-sponsored a major national toxic substance protection bill, in order to protect the health of Alaskans – as well as the state’s wilderness, wildlife and waters.  The Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 is the first update of restrictions and guidelines of consumer products in over 35 years and protects Alaskans from new chemical risks that have arisen in the last generation while still creating an opportunity environment for manufacturers to innovate, grow and create jobs.

Numerous studies in recent years have shown a risk of congenital health conditions and birth defects connected to chemical compounds, pollutants and toxins being found in Alaska’s water, soil and air.  This has led to increased detections of chemicals in rural Alaskan’s mammary glands, endocrine systems and a rise of unhealthy chemicals in Alaska’s wildlife.

“It’s troubling to me and to many Alaskans that we haven’t updated our chemical safety policy since the eight-track tape era,” said Murkowski.  “I have repeatedly been asked by the Alaska Coalition on Toxics and the Alaska Environmental Health and Justice Program to reform and streamline the review process of chemicals that are affecting the health of rural Alaskans.  Though this bill is not perfect, it clearly is a positive, bipartisan step forward and offers a clear path to speed up the review and enforcement of rules to stop chemicals from affecting our fish and wildlife – and the health of rural Alaskans that depend on a subsistence way of life.”

The bipartisan, compromise legislation has been introduced by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and David Vitter (R-LA) and would:

  • Protect Children and Pregnant Women: The legislation requires EPA to evaluate the risks posed to particularly vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant women, when evaluating the safety of a chemical—a provision not included in existing law.
  • Require Safety Evaluations for All Chemicals: All active chemicals in commerce must be evaluated for safety and labeled as either “high” or “low” priority chemical based on potential risk to human health and the environment.  For high priority chemicals, EPA must conduct further safety evaluations. 
  • Give States and Municipalities a Say:  States and local governments will have the opportunity to provide input on prioritization, safety assessment and the safety determination processes, requiring timely response from EPA, and the bill establishes a waiver process to allow state regulations or laws to remain in effect when circumstances warrant it.
  • Screen New Chemicals for Safety: New chemicals entering the market must be screened for safety and the EPA is given the authority to prohibit unsafe chemicals from entering the market. 
  • Secure Necessary Health and Safety Information: The legislation allows EPA to secure necessary health and safety information from chemical manufacturers, while directing EPA to rely first on existing information to avoid duplicative testing. 
  • Promote Innovation and Safer Chemistry: This legislation provides clear paths to getting new chemistry on the market and protects trade secrets and intellectual property from disclosure.     

Murkowski is supporting this compromise bill after a lengthy review and consultation process that will allow Alaska to seek priority reviews of chemicals and pollutants that are posing special problems for rural Alaska.  One key provision allows Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation to petition EPA for an expedited review of such chemicals with EPA needing to respond within 6 months and provides an avenue to accelerate reductions in pollutants that are uniquely affecting the Arctic. The bill, however, keeps in place protections to safeguard reasonable chemical usage by Alaska industry and local governments.

Under current law, the EPA can call for safety testing only after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical may be dangerous.  As a result, EPA has only been able to require testing for roughly 200 of the more than 84,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States, and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances since the Toxic Substances Control Act was first enacted in 1976.  These shortfalls led the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to identify TSCA as a “high risk” area of the law in 2009.  

Comprehensive reform of chemical regulations is important to consumers and job creating businesses that need the ability to compete in the global marketplace. Chemicals are used to produce 96 percent of all manufactured goods consumers rely on every day and over 25 percent of the U.S. GDP is derived from industries that rely on chemicals.