Recognizing the often hidden hazards posed by toxic chemicals that pervade our lives, Congress has enacted a variety of laws designed to protect people and the environment from both short- and long-term health problems. The Superfund legislation aims to ensure that polluters pay for contaminating land and water. The Toxic Substances Control Act requires EPA to review all new chemicals before they go on the market. And a patchwork of other federal laws address toxic chemicals as they are released into the air and water, applied to crops to fight pests, or added to consumer products. Despite the efforts of Congress and government agencies, those who profit from introducing hazardous pollutants into the environment lobby hard to prevent stiff regulatory enforcement and distort scientific evidence of harm.
CPR Member Scholars' work in this area includes research and analysis related to the federal government's IRIS database, Superfund, BPA, the Toxics Substances Control Act, and more.
For decades, corporations intent on avoiding accountability for the illness and injuries their products sometimes cause have waged a fierce campaign against citizen access to state and federal courts. Now they've got a new gambit: a federal bill that effectively alters the rules of evidence in state courts. Read CPR's January 2014 Issue Alert.
Protections against the dangers of toxic chemicals include federal law (the Toxic Substances Control Act), as well as state regulation and state and federal civil justice systems. TSCA needs an update, and industry is hoping to use that process to weaken the other two legs of the framework.
The endocrine disruptor BPA can be found in baby bottles, water bottles, and in the resin lining of food and beverage cans. Federal action to protect Americans from its potential harm has been achingly slow. CPR Member Scholars propose solutions in the form of a federal action plan.
Congress created the Superfund program to drive the cleanup of more than 1,000 sites across the nation that had been polluted with toxic wastes. But after the Gingrich Revolution, Congress let lapse the principal funding mechanism -- a tax on the industries whose toxic pollution poisoned the sites. Predictably, cleanups have slowed to a crawl, endangering public health in the areas surrounding toxic waste sites. The problem came into particularly bold relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when it was revealed that several still-polluted Superfund sites had been flooded.
Other efforts to combat toxic pollution are important, too. One vital initiative is the federal government's Toxic Release Inventory, a compilation of industry-reported toxic emissions that can serve as a valuable tool for policymakers and regulatory enforcement efforts.
Another significant toxics issue has to do with what we don’t know about toxics. Many Americans would be surprised to discover that most of the chemicals used in commerce have never been adequately tested for safety. CPR Member Scholars have worked both to illuminate and overcome the resulting “data gap.”
In September 2012, CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor and Policy Analyst Waydin Radin published a white paper exposing the work of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), two industry advocacy groups that have undue influence on the regulation of toxic chemicals. The two firms specialize in a particularly insidious brand of “dirty” science by recruiting EPA experts to co-author papers and participate in policy-making workshops that are heavily biased toward manufacturer interests.
Read about CPR Member Scholars’ work on toxics and Superfund:
West Virginia Chemical Spill Anniversary op-eds. CPR Member Scholars Rena Steinzor and Noah Sachs each published op-eds on the first anniversary of the 2014 West Virginia chemical spill. Read Noah Sachs in The Hill on January 9, 2015, and Rena Steinzor on Huffington Post on January 12, 2015.
Mintz Testimony on Enforcement. Read Joel Mintz's June 6, 2012 testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power on EPA's enforcement record during the Obama years.
Proposed Executive Orders for the Obama Administration. In November 2008, the Center for Progressive Reform transmitted to the Obama Transition Team a slate of seven Executive Orders addressing a series of critical issues, including climate change, transparency in government, environmental justice, children's exposure to toxics, citizens' right to sue corporations whose products cause them harm, and stewardship of public lands. Read a web article about the proposals, and read the white paper itself, Protecting Public Health and the Environment by the Stroke of a Presidential Pen (3.2 meg download). Or read the news release.
Superfund. In June 2006, CPR, together with the Center for American Progress, released a joint report highlighting the achingly slow pace of Superfund cleanups, pinpointing the worst toxic waste sites in the nation’s ten most populous states, and identifying which communities are paying the price for the Superfund slowdown. Read about the report and about other Member Scholars’ work on Superfund issues.
Data Gaps. Read Closing Data Gaps, CPR Member Scholar John Applegate's innovative proposal for addressing the difficult problem of the significant gaps in what EPA knows about the dangers of chemicals now used in commerce. Or read the news release. (April 2006) Or read Rena Steinzor, Katherine Baer, and Matthew Shudtz's white paper on the significant gaps in what EPA knows about the dangers of chemicals now on the market and in common use, gaps reflected in EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), arguably the world's most prominent toxicological database: Overcoming Environmental Data Gaps: Why What EPA Doesn't Know about Toxic Chemicals Can Hurt (CPR White Paper #510, July 2005). Or read CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor and CPR Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz's April 2008 letter to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, about proposed “Integrated Risk Information System Assessment Development Procedures” that would slow the process of filling significant gaps.