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by Richard Denison, PhD, cross-posted from EDFBlog

Note: We accidentally posted the contents of an earlier Richard Denison post (available here) under this title. We’ve updated the post, and apologize for the error. – TPH Editors

Please help me welcome to the true mainstream of scientific and medical thought the seemingly radical yet commonsense notion that chemical exposures are a significant contributor to cancer, many types of which are rising in incidence even as overall rates decline.

This morning, the President’s Cancer Panel released its 2010 report [available here].  The report is remarkable not so much for its core finding that chemical exposures are a major factor in human cancer, but rather because of its source – an authoritative and bipartisan body — and because of the strong linkages it makes to our failed chemicals policies.

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In the Washington Post, David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin contrast the first Earth Day in 1970 — which led to environmental victories for clean air and water — with today’s less promising iteration:

The problems [today] are more slippery: pollutants like greenhouse-gas emissions, which don’t stink or sting the eyes. And current activists, by their own admission, rarely muster the kind of collar-grabbing immediacy that the first Earth Day gave to environmental causes.

With Lisa Jackson now in charge at EPA, we’ve seen some steps toward curbing global climate change. In December, EPA issued an endangerment finding, stating that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare (which means EPA can regulate them). In April, with the Department of Transportation, the agency increased fuel-efficiency requirements and set greenhouse-gas emission standards for cars and light trucks.

While these actions are important, we need a much stronger response to stabilize the climate – and such a response doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. The Copenhagen climate talks were a crushing disappointment, and the better-than-nothing House climate bill is unlikely to survive the endless watering-down process that seems necessary to get anything through the Senate these days.

At least the Senate does seem motivated to do something about the woefully inadequate Toxic Substances Control Act. Last week, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced the Safe Chemicals Act, and US Representatives Bobby Rush and Henry Waxman released a discussion draft of a similar bill. The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition supports the legislation, but also calls for it to be strengthened in several ways. Here’s their summary of the pros and cons:
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One of our readers passed along a reminder that CDC and ATSDR’s first “National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures” web dialogue is going on right now. From April 5-7, online participants will discuss topics introduced each morning by session moderators. Here’s the description of what the National Conversation is, and what kind of participation the agencies seek:

The National Conversation aims to strengthen the nation’s approach to protecting the public from harmful chemical exposures. Everyone who has an interest in this subject is welcome to join the conversation. Your ideas will help the National Conversation Leadership Council create an action agenda for achieving the National Conversation vision that the United States will use and manage chemicals in ways that are safe and healthy for all people.

In order to provide useful information, we ask that registered individuals participate in two key ways:

  • Review resource information in the dialogue Library to become familiar with the issues that will be discussed
  • Thoughtfully share your values and priorities with others

If you’d like to participate in the next two days of this conversation, visit the web dialogue website to review the guidelines and register to join in.

By Richard Denison, cross-posted from Environmental Defense Fund

As the long-awaited introduction of TSCA reform legislation at last appears to be about to happen (how’s that for being definitively vague?), the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF) coalition believes it is time to more sharply define some of the policy areas where we currently differ from the chemical industry, insofar as we have been able to discern their positions through the principles, testimony and other public statements they have provided.  After all, you have first to identify differences before you can seek to narrow them.

SCHF took the opportunity to define those differences yesterday, choosing as our venues both the inside and the outside of the chemical industry’s big annual shindig, its GlobalChem conference held in Baltimore. 

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On the heels of Ben Elgin’s Business Week story yesterday about employers failing to comply with rules for reporting worker injuries, it appears large public sector employers have trouble obeying the law as well.  The LA Times is reporting that the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) failed to report to Cal-OSHA a serious burn injury that required a paid graduate research assistant to spend a week in the UCLA Medical Center’s burn unit.   (Under Cal-OSHA regulations, an employer must report to the agency within 8 hours any worker death or any worker injury requiring more than 24 hours of hospitalization.  Federal OSHA, in contrast, only requires injury reporting if 3 or more workers are hospitalized.)

In “Serious lab incident was not reported,” the LATimes journalist Kim Christensen, ties this revelation to the fatal injuries sustained by UCLA graduate research assistant Shari Sangji, 23.  Ms. Sangji died 18 days after suffering serious burns and injuries from a December 2008 explosion in a UCLA chemistry lab. 

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by Richard Denison, PhD, cross-posted from EDF Blog

The Washington Post ran a front-page article Saturday, written by Spencer Hsu, which reported the auction sale by FEMA of most of the 120,000 notorious formaldehyde-tainted trailers it had purchased five years ago to house the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  The article cites FEMA as saying that “wholesale buyers from the auction must sign contracts attesting that trailers will not be used, sold or advertised as housing, and that trailers will carry a sticker saying, ‘Not to be used for housing’.”

Think that’s likely to be enough? 

Think again. 

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This is the first piece of a new series featured on The Pump Handle. New Solutions, A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, is taking their work from the world of print to an online medium, posting once-monthly blogs about environmental and occupational research, activism, advocacy, and campaigns. To read more about New Solutions: The Drawing Board, click here.

Dear readers,
 
We are Alice and Philip Shabecoff, authors of Poisoned Profits—The Toxic Assault on Our Children (Random House, 2008), a book about the effects of everyday toxins on the health of American kids. We are reaching out to you, who engage with the fields of environmental and occupational health as professionals, students, concerned parents, and/or active community or union members, to ask for strategies to motivate and kick-start a public health movement to create a healthier and more sustainable society. What can be done to get through to ‘the people’?  How can we capture attention away from “America’s Top Model” and break through the stranglehold of industry PR? We look to you—policy makers, researchers, community activists, professors, doctors, union leaders and members, concerned parents, interested students—to brainstorm and help lead this movement. What can be done to not only inform, but also effectively enrage so that tangible action occurs, and occurs soon?

On the assumption that you are knowledgeable and creative, and that you do not easily give up just because the fight is difficult, we write to ask your ideas, opinions, and advice.

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In a post last week (and previously) I’ve mentioned the limitations of using “days away and restricted time” (DART) incidence rates as an adequate metric of an employer’s health and safety performance.  This seems especially true for refineries, chemical plants and sites with combustible dust hazards, where unitentional fires, ruptured equipment, and chemical releases may be warning signs of serious trouble.

A knowledgeable TPH reader reminded me that this very issue–the inadequacy of using DART rates to assess process safety—was addressed in the Chemical Safety Board’s report of the March 2005 BP Texas City disaster.  CSB referred to a 2004 paper by Michael Broadribb and colleagues saying:

“one key lesson for industry was that preventing major incidents ‘requires a specific focus on process safety management over and above conventional safety management,’ and ‘traditional indicators such as ‘days away from work’ do not provide a good indication of process safety performance.’”

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Although the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act requires chemical manufacturers to alert the government about new chemicals they plan to market, companies can keep that information a secret from the public by claiming that disclosure could harm their business. A few EPA employees have access to the information, but can’t share it with other state and federal health officials, first responders, or the public.

This “confidential business information” designation is widely used and easily abused. EPA told the Government Accountability Office that roughly 95% of premanufacture notices contain some information identified as confidential by chemical companies, and a 1992 EPA study found extensive use of inappropriate CBI claims. The agency hasn’t performed a more recent study, and it told GAO that it every year it can only challenge about 14 claims of CBI that it suspects of being inappropriate. When the agency does challenge claims, chemical companies withdraw nearly all of the claims in question.

This situation may be changing. The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton reports that Steve Owens, assistant administrator of the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances at EPA, came to the agency in July and has since ended confidentialty protection for 530 chemicals. It seems that these weren’t tough calls to make; Eilperin reports, “In those cases, manufacturers had claimed secrecy for chemicals they had promoted by name on their Web sites or detailed in trade journals.” She also gives an example of a situation where ease of chemical-information access can make a difference:

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by Bill Hoyle

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has declined so far to investigate the December 4th fatal explosion at the Valero oil refinery in Texas City, Texas.  Like OSHA, the CSB is spread thin due to underfunding and understaffing.   CSB further argues, however, that they do not plan to investigate because Valero claims that there was no release of hazardous material. 

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