The AFL-CIO outlined in an April 13 letter the “serious flaws and deficiencies” in a bill introduced by Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Tom Udall (D-NM) to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The country’s largest labor federation noted its deep involvement in the passage of TSCA in 1976, but its disappointment that the 40 year old law has “failed to provide meaningful and effective regulation” of toxic substances. (Even efforts to ban asbestos failed under the law.)
The labor federation has an important voice and perspective when it comes to chemical hazards. Workers are the guinea pigs for exposure to toxic chemicals and are often exposed to the highest concentrations of them.
The AFL-CIO indicates its support for major legislative reform of TSCA, but it outlines several defects in the Vitter/Udall (S. 697) bill. For example, the bill would restrict states from taking action to limit exposures to toxic substances. The AFL-CIO writes that States would be:
“preempted from acting once EPA designates a chemical as a high priority, years before there is any binding federal action to limit exposures, with no guarantee that EPA will actually take final regulatory action. In addition, states are prohibited from even co-enforcing standards that are identical to federal rules, a total departure from the shared state-federal enforcement responsibilities under TSCA and other environmental laws.”
A “fatal defect” in the bill, the AFL-CIO notes, is the missing definition for the legislation’s term “unreasonable risk.”
“What is unreasonable – is it a risk of harm of one in a thousand, one in ten thousand, one in a million or some other level of risk? The failure to establish a clear standard for protection will result in endless litigation to define what is meant by ‘unreasonable risk’ and thwart effective regulation.”
Their letter includes an attachment outlining nine problems with the Vitter/Udall bill. Among them:
“The inability of EPA to ban asbestos is recognized to be one of the most glaring failures of the current TSCA law.”
Yet the Vitter/Udall bill fails to fix that problem.
The AFL-CIO joins a growing list of organizations which have raised serious concerns about this TSCA reform bill. The groups include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Breast Cancer Fund (here), Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Clean Water Action (here), Center for Environmental Health (here), Healthcare without Harm, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Last month, David McCumber of Hearst Newspapers reported on the American Chemistry Council’s intimate involvement in drafting the Vitter/Udall bill.