[Pharmwaste] States and cities move to curb toxic substances the EPA hasn't

DeBiasi,Deborah dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Tue May 8 15:55:26 EDT 2007


States and cities move to curb toxic substances the EPA hasn't 

By Traci Watson, USA TODAY

States and cities are taking steps to ban toxic substances found in
consumer goods ranging from TVs to baby bottles, rather than waiting for
the Environmental Protection Agency or other federal agencies to yank
them off the market.

Federal agencies "are not protecting the safety of the American public,"
says state Rep. Ross Hunter, a Democrat who helped push a chemical ban
through the Washington Legislature. "If the federal government won't do
it, then the states are going to have to do it."

Charles Auer, head of the EPA division that oversees toxic chemicals,
says the agency does take action when the law allows it to do so. The
EPA has enacted "control measures that we think are adequate to protect
health and the environment," he says.

>From California to Maine, state and local officials have reacted to new
scientific studies that hint at health dangers from widely used
chemicals. Some examples:

*Washington last month banned a chemical called Deca-BDE, as long as
substitutes can be found. The EPA is studying the chemical and has no
plans to ban it. The chemical, commonly found in upholstery, helps keep
items from catching fire and has been linked to liver problems in

"We keep getting more and more scientific evidence of the kind of harm
that it can cause to people," Hunter says.

*California's air-pollution agency last month set limits on formaldehyde
fumes wafting from particle board and other wood products. Formaldehyde
acts as a glue, but the EPA believes its fumes can cause cancer. No
federal law allows the EPA to regulate fumes from finished products,
agency spokesman John Millet says.

In January, state officials decided to ban the chemical
perchloroethylene, which most dry cleaners use to launder clothes and
other items. The EPA in July restricted use of the chemical but did not
ban it.

"Our responsibility is to the citizens of California," said Dimitri
Stanich, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.

*Maine's Legislature held a hearing last week on a bill to bar the sale
of children's plastic products, such as baby bottles, containing a
chemical called bisphenol A or others called phthalates. These widely
used chemicals help give items their texture, but both have been linked
to developmental problems in lab animals. The EPA is studying these
chemicals and has not taken a stance on them yet.

"The federal law that controls (these chemicals) has terrible
loopholes," says bill sponsor state Rep. Jon Hinck, a Democrat.

The main federal law about chemicals has drawn attention for being
ineffective. The Toxic Substances Control Act makes it "costly and time
consuming" for the EPA to get data about chemicals' safety, according to
a 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a
congressional watchdog.

Since the law was passed in 1976, the EPA has banned or cut production
of only five existing chemicals or groups of chemicals that were on the
market when the law was passed, the GAO said.

The EPA defends its record on the chemicals that states and cities have
tackled. Auer says that in some cases, there is too little scientific
evidence to justify a federal ban. When the evidence is strong enough,
the law gives the agency the power to act, he says.

Representatives of the chemical industry question states' ability to
regulate chemicals on their own. They say weighing a chemical's risks
and benefits is so complex and technical it's best left to the EPA.

"The resources and expertise available to the federal government would
provide for better ... decision making," says Steve Russell of the
American Chemistry Council, a group of chemical manufacturers. Even so,
he concedes, "We understand the inclination to act."


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Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email:   dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address:  www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
Mail:          P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218 (NEW!)
Location:  629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA  23219
PH:         804-698-4028
FAX:      804-698-4032

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