Bill Could Let Researchers Ban Chemicals

A new bill, set to be introduced later this month, could give federal researchers the clout to ban unsafe chemicals from commercial use, changing the face of chemical regulation in the United States.

Aptly named the Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Exposure Elimination Act of 2011, this bill could potentially make blacklisting chemicals a simpler and shorter process than it currently is. Good news for those concerned with the dangers of loosely regulated chemicals.

The brainchild of Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Jim Moran (D-Virginia), the bill would allow the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and a board of experts chosen by the director, to ban up to ten chemicals from commerce each year. The stoppage would go into effect two years after the chemical has been deemed illegal.

While the NIEHS, a part of the National Institutes of Health, regularly researches endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and funds similar research at other facilities, its authority is purely consultative. The organization can advise regulatory agencies, but lacks any real regulatory ability.

The Endocrine Society, the world’s largest organization of endocrinologists, applauded the move towards more legislation, noting the importance of increased chemical regulation in the developed world.

“We are almost like a third world country when it comes to regulating chemicals,” said Endocrine Society member Frederick vom Saal. “It’s very difficult for people interested in the public’s health to understand how does this become a political, partisan, issue when people on both sides have family that are showing diseases related to these chemicals. What is going on here?”

A statement released by the group in 2009 argued for more research into endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and their effects on human health, as well as a “precautionary principle” to reduce the use of chemicals whose potential backlash has not been properly studied.

The organization’s evidence further suggested that unlike regular toxins, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have a higher danger at lower levels, levels so low that the Environmental Protection Agency’s screening tests cannot detect them.

As a result, some researchers claim, the developed world is facing rising rates of disorders like Autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, obesity, cancer, and infertility, due largely in part to chemicals that mimic and interfere with the functions of human hormones.

“These disorders began to increase noticeably at the population level in the early 1970s,” reads the Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act, a similar bill drafted by Kerry and Moran in 2009, “when the first generation exposed in the womb to post-World War II synthetic chemicals reached maturity. Prior to 1950, these disorders were rare, which rules out the influence of inherited disorders.”

Yet, though hailed in the realm of researchers, the bill faces a rough road ahead, likely to face strong opposition from chemical manufacturers and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The 2009 bill never made it out of committee, blocked by lobbyists from the American Chemistry Council, an organization representing the largest chemical manufacturers, and CropLife America, a trade association of companies making pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture.

According to disclosure forms from the Center for Responsive Politics, both groups spent $10.25 million and $2.88 million, respectively, lobbying against the legislation.

The American Chemistry Council declined to comment, but released a written statement defending the use of BPA, a controversial chemical found in plastics and the lining of canned foods.

“BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals used today and has a safety track record of 50 years,” it said.

Yet, scientific experts scoff at the statement, saying it represents the rift between science and industry.

“BPA is a good example of a situation where there’s this huge disconnect between literally hundreds and hundreds of studies done both by people in the government and in the academic side,” said vom Saal, “and then a small number of studies done by corporations where 100% of the corporate studies say this chemical is safe.”

CNN has received an “advanced copy” of the bill, which can be found here.

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