Education and Ethics

Open Letter to the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee

Senator James Inhofe
Chairman, Environment & Public Works Committee
410 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Senator Barbara Boxer
Ranking Member, Environment & Public Works Committee
456 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Boxer:

We the undersigned 58 scientists thank you for your interest in reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act to achieve its original purposes. The Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976 with bipartisan support, was intended to create a system to protect the public from the effects of harmful chemicals. It is widely acknowledged to have failed and to require an overhaul. We are concerned that the current bill to reform TSCA (S. 697) does not adequately address the most important deficiencies in U.S. chemical regulation.

Since World War II, chemical production and use in the U.S. has increased dramatically. There are currently more than 80,000 chemical substances registered for use in U.S. commerce; several thousand of them are manufactured or imported in excess of 1 million pounds each every year.

We have good reasons to be concerned about widespread human exposure to chemicals in use. Scientists have developed the ability to detect trace chemicals in the human body and have shown that many Americans are exposed daily to dozens of chemicals linked to potentially harmful health effects. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sponsors the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.1 It is a nationally representative study of the population that measures chemicals in blood and urine and consistently finds hundreds of chemicals in Americans, particularly in pregnant women and children.2

Dozens of pollutants are now known to cross the human placenta from mother to child during pregnancy, some at concentrations known to adversely affect neurological and reproductive systems. It is also clear that subtle damages to individual children can result in major consequences at the population level. One study has estimated that three common pollutants alone — mercury, lead and organophosphate pesticides — result in a total decrease of 40 million IQ points among American children ages 0 to 5 years as a group.3 Laboratory and observational studies suggest that scores of other widely used chemicals may also cause toxic effects, but in many cases the extent of the risks to children has not been adequately determined.

Many of the chemicals detected in people’s bodies are released from industrial sites into air and water and ultimately reach the food supply. Thousands more are intentionally added to consumer products. While regulatory programs for air and water have made improvements, TSCA has failed to protect Americans from chemicals. Modeling suggests that chemicals used in household consumer products can pose a more direct exposure risk for the general population than chemicals with only industrial uses.4

Many chemicals have not been adequately studied for their effects on human health, primarily because TSCA does not require manufacturers to ensure the safety of the chemicals they produce. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has insufficient authority to require health and safety data, and insufficient resources to conduct the testing itself.

EPA leadership recently declared that "absent statutory changes, the Agency will not be able to successfully meet the goal of ensuring chemical safety now or in the future."5 As scientists, we urge you to create a modern and robust system that will allow EPA to fully assess chemical hazards and protect public health. A reformed TSCA should also be harmonized with chemical regulations in Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australia; the U.S. does not need to reinvent the wheel.

Specifically, we urge you to address the following principles in any effort to update the Toxic Substances Control Act:

  • Congress must authorize EPA to restrict chemicals that threaten human health
    EPA is currently only authorized to address the "unreasonable risks" that chemicals pose to human health or the environment. When a chemical fails even this weak safety standard, the agency faces unreasonably burdensome requirements when it attempts to restrict the chemical’s use. Efforts to improve TSCA must provide a greater degree of public health protection, using the truly health-protective safety standard "reasonable certainty of no harm," and must remove unwarranted procedural obstacles to EPA’s ability to address chemicals that fail to meet the standard.
  • EPA must comply with modern scientific principles in its assessments of chemical risks
    EPA risk assessments should be required to conform to the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).6 The NAS has urged EPA to apply more systematic methods to evaluate and integrate the evidence on chemical toxicity, and characterize data gaps and uncertainty around its decisions.
  • EPA must assess human variability in both exposure to chemicals and sensitivity to toxic effects
    This should explicitly include the aggregate effects of chemical mixtures.7 Furthermore NAS has called for a unified approach to considering cancer and non-cancer hazards. This would mean that EPA should assume that low levels of exposure to chemicals are associated with some level of risk unless sufficient data is available to contradict this assumption.8 Reform of TSCA must make EPA compliance with the recommendations of the NAS mandatory.
  • EPA must move quickly to screen new and existing chemicals
    EPA’s previous efforts to evaluate the hazards posed by high production volume chemicals, potential endocrine disruptors, or, most recently, to assess risks of 83 high priority chemicals, have been subject to numerous delays. Without clear authority, statutory deadlines and funding, EPA scientists will be unable to efficiently review and assess the thousands of industrial chemicals produced in high volumes. For example, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that, at the current pace, it could take EPA at least 10 years to assess just 83 chemicals of high concern, not to mention hundreds of other widely used and poorly studied chemicals.9 Any new legislation must include clear and swift deadlines for the prioritization, assessment, and regulation of chemicals of concern. EPA must also be equipped the with the financial and personnel resources necessary to conduct chemical safety evaluations adequately and in a timely manner.
  • Scientists are willing to help
    As scientists and public health professionals, we have dedicated our professional lives to better understanding chemicals’ effects on human health and the environment. On the basis of this research we conclude that TSCA must be reformed to provide EPA with the authority it needs to fill data gaps and to restrict chemicals that pose clear risks to people and the environment. The scientific community has valuable expertise and must be at the table as TSCA is rewritten. With scientific input, we can learn from past mistakes and benefit from decades of research on chemicals’ environmental fates and effects. Only then will we collectively be able to protect public health from these chemical hazards.

Sincerely,

Rainer Lohmann, Ph.D.
Graduate School of Oceanography
University of Rhode Island

Heather M. Stapleton, Ph.D.
Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University

John Peterson Myers, Ph.D.
Environmental Health Sciences, and
Carnegie Mellon University

Benson Akingbemi, Ph.D.
Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology
Auburn University

Paloma Beamer, Ph.D.
Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health
University of Arizona

Bruce Blumberg, Ph.D.
Developmental and Cell Biology and Pharmaceutical Sciences
University of California, Irvine

Dana Boyd Barr, Ph.D.
Rollins School of Public Health
Emory University

Da Chen, Ph.D.
Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

Terrance J. Collins, Ph.D.
Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry
Carnegie Mellon University

Devra Davis, Ph.D.
Environmental Health Trust

José G. Dórea
Professor Emeritus
University of Brasilia, Brazil

Shelley Ehrlich, MD, ScD, MPH
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

Paul Eubig, DVM, MS, Ph.D.
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Illinois, Urbana

Jodi Flaws, Ph.D.
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Peter L. de Fur, Ph.D.
Center for Environmental Studies Virginia Commonwealth University

Frank Gilliland, MD, Ph.D.
Division of Environmental Health
Department of Preventive Medicine
University of Southern California

Jean Golding, Ph.D. DSc
Emeritus Professor of Paediatric & Perinatal Epidemiology
School of Social & Community Medicine
University of Bristol, United Kingdom

Philippe Grandjean, MD, DMSc
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Kim Harley, MPH, Ph.D.
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley

Russ Hauser, MD, ScD, MPH
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Harvard Medical School

Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Ph.D.
Department of Environmental Health
Boston University School of Public Health

Ronald A. Hites, Ph.D.
School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Indiana University

Keri C. Hornbuckle, Ph.D.
College of Engineering
University of Iowa

Patricia Hunt, Ph.D.
School of Molecular Biosciences
Washington State University, Pullman

Alastair Iles, Ph.D.
Berkeley Center for a Green Chemistry
Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management
University of California, Berkeley

Amy Kalkbrenner, Ph.D., MPH
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Roxanne Karimi, Ph.D.
School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
Stony Brook University

Sheldon Krimsky, Ph.D.
Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning
Tufts University

Amy D. Kyle, Ph.D., MPH
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley

Bruce Lanphear, Ph.D.
British Columbia Children’s Hospital & Simon Frasier University

Victoria Leonard, RN, NP, Ph.D.
Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit
University of California, San Francisco

Chensheng (Alex) Lu, Ph.D.
School of Public Health
Harvard University

Morri Markowitz, MD
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Carmen J. Marsit, Ph.D.
Norris Cotton Comprehensive Cancer Center
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Michele La Merrill, Ph.D., MPH
Department of Environmental Toxicology
University of California, Davis

Howard W. Mielke, Ph.D.
Department of Pharmacology
Tulane University School of Medicine

Rachel Morello-Frosch, Ph.D., MPH
Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management & School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley

Edward F. Orlando, Ph.D.
University of Maryland, College Park

Peter Orris, MD, MPH
Occupational and Environmental Medicine
University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System

Youssef Oulhote, Ph.D.
Environmental Health Department
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Frederica P. Perera, Ph.D., DrPH
Mailman School of Public Health Columbia University

Gail S. Prins, Ph.D.
University of Illinois, Chicago

Deborah Rice, Ph.D.
Toxicology Consultant Woolwich, Maine

Jerald Schnoor, Ph.D.
University of Iowa

Kate Scow, Ph.D.
University of California, Davis

Henrik Selin, Ph.D.
Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies
Boston University

Noelle Eckley Selin, Ph.D.
Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Howard M. Snyder III, MD
Division of Pediatric Urology
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Deborah Swackhamer, Ph.D.
Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs & School of Public Health
University of Minnesota

Shanna H. Swan, Ph.D.
Department of Preventive Medicine
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Robert L. Tanguay, Ph.D.
Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology
Oregon State University

Laura N. Vandenberg, Ph.D.
School of Public Health & Health Sciences
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Catherine VandeVoort, Ph.D.
Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility
University of California, Davis

Frederick S. vom Saal, Ph.D.
University of Missouri, Columbia

Julie S.L. Wang
Division of Environmental Health & Occupational Medicine NHRI, Taiwan

Bernard Weiss, Ph.D.
University of Rochester
School of Medicine and Dentistry

Robin M. Whyatt, DrPH
Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University

Tracey J. Woodruff, Ph.D., MPH
Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment
University of California, San Francisco

R. Thomas Zoeller, Ph.D.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

*Institutional affiliation listed for identification purposes only and does not reflect the official view of the institution.

1 Centers for Disease Control. 2013. Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, www.cdc.gov/exposurereport.

2 Woodruff TJ. 2011. Environmental Chemicals in Pregnant Women in the United States: NHANES 2003-04. Environmental Health Perspectives. 119(6): 878-85.

3 Bellinger DC. 2011. A Strategy for Comparing the Contributions of Environmental Chemicals and Other Risk Factors to Neurodevelopment of Children. Environmental Health Perspectives 120(4):501-07.

4 Wambaugh JF, et al. 2013. High-Throughput Models for Exposure-Based Chemical Prioritization in the ExpoCast Project. Environmental Science and Technology. 47:8479-88.

5 GAO. 2013. Toxic Substances: EPA has increased efforts to assess and control chemicals but could strengthen its approach. U.S. Government Accountability Office. GAO-13-249.

6 National Academy of Sciences. 2009. Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment. National Research Council of the National Academies. National Academy of Sciences. 2014. Review of EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Process. National Research Council of the National Academies.

7 Lohmann R, et al. 2013. Science Should Guide TSCA Reform. Environmental Science and Technology. 47(16): 8995-6.

8 Woodruff TJ, et al. 2011. The Need For Better Public Health Decisions On Chemicals Released Into Our Environment. Health Affairs. 30(5):957-967.

9 Government Accountability Office. 2013. Toxic Substances: EPA has increased efforts to assess and control chemicals but could strengthen its approach. GAO-13-249.