Federal WHE
Advocacy Initiatives

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

There are more than 85,000 chemicals in commerce in the U.S. and only a tiny fraction of them have been tested for safety. Under our nation’s key chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Environmental Protection Agency has banned only five chemicals. Women for a Healthy Environment has been working on national chemical reform since its inception in late 2009. In 2016, after a years-long legislative process in which we worked with national partners including Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Congress passed a bipartisan update to TSCA called the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (LCSA). Since LCSA was signed into law, we have been working to protect American families’ health by advocating for EPA to implement the new law with the strength that Congress intended.

TSCA Reform

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was established in 1976 to regulate chemicals in consumer products sold and manufactured in the U.S. The act however is heavily in favor of industry and allows little protection for the consumer.  In fact, the EPA has the burden of proving if a chemical is harmful! There are bills being passed through both the House and the Senate this year to reform this outdated act, in an attempt to shift the focus away from industry protection and towards public health and EPA regulation. The reforms, however, are still facing widespread criticism for the testing timelines outlined (such as allowing only ten chemicals to be reviewed per year when there are tens of thousands of untested chemicals on the market).

The proposed bills are important to pass in order to update this 40 year old, outdated act, but these updates need to be more explicit in their guarantee for protection of vulnerable populations, the consumer and public safety, rather than the industries who put toxic substances on the market.

Microbeads legislation

Microbeads are polyethylene or polypropylene microspheres used commonly in personal care products around the globe. In recent years however, awareness is being raised about their impact on health and the environment, particularly in the pollution of waterways. Most wastewater plants are not equipped with the filtration devices to filter out these extremely small microbeads, so they end up in local waterways and have become the number one source of plastics pollution in water bodies like the Great Lakes. To date, nine states and several other counties have already begun to restrict sales of products containing microbeads. The European Union and Canada are working towards broader bans against the products as well, but Norway is the only country thus far to pass a nationwide ban. These sorts of bans influence companies to phase out the use of microbeads in their products and should be encouraged more broadly across the U.S. to stop further pollution of our waterways.

Electron scanning microscope view of a 1.5mm wide plastic microbead

This is an image of a plastic microbead from a facewash, taken via scanning electron microscopy; it is about 0.5mm wide. Microbeads are used for their exfoliating properties; many people don’t even know they are there. The major problem is they wash down the drain, pass through sewage works and into the sea and are ingested by marine animals.

University of Exeter from United Kingdom - Andrew Watts Face to Face with Plastic

Mold Health Policy Brief

Woman wearing glove, scrubbing mold off of a wall next to a window

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores indoors. While there is no federal standard for mold in homes, the EPA does recommend professional remediation of mold infested areas larger than 10 square feet in homes and specific protocol for contractors removing mold from school campuses.

  • Set a Threshold Limit Value (TLV) for airborne concentrations of molds.[i]
  • Adopt the EPA guidance for schools and commercial buildings as a requirement for remediation by a certified mold professional if the total surface area affected exceeds ten square feet.[ii]

 


 

[i]  Measuring Environmental Fungal Exposure

[ii] Mold Remediation In Schools and Commercial Buildings

PFAS Health Policy Brief

Frying pan with non-stick surface and hot oil under water tap flow in sink

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. They are common in stain resistant and non-stick consumer products, including cookware.

Federal policymakers can protect consumers from this highly toxic “forever” chemical by: 

  • Determining a federal MCL that is health-protective and lower than the current recommended level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) (consider those recommended MCLs per PFAS chemical developed by the Michigan PFAS Action Team or Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection)
  • Adding PFAS as a priority under the Toxic Substances Control Act

Glyphosate Health Policy Brief

Tractor with high wheels is making fertilizer on young wheat

Glyphosate, a chemical commonly used in pesticides like RoundUp spray, is a probable human carcinogen. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s action level for glyphosate in drinking water should be lowered in light of its carcinogenic effects. Currently, glyphosate is a primary drinking water contaminant under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and has a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) and Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of 700 ppb. Public health researchers have criticized the current MCL for glyphosate, alleging that there is no safe level of glyphosate exposure and current standards are not health protective. 

Coal Tar Health Policy Brief

Industrial machinery working with asphal industrial laying fresh asphalt on construction site

According to the National Cancer Institute, coal tar is the byproduct of the production of coke, a solid fuel made by heating coal in the absence of air. Coal-tar pitch is a thick black liquid that remains after the distillation of coal tar. Both generally have a smoky or aromatic odor and have been classified as carcinogenic. Coal tar and coal tar pitch are commonly found in pavement sealants. A federal ban on the production of coal tar and coal-tar pitch in any commercial product would be the most health protective and efficient policy solution.