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Top Dem urges release of EPA regs as controversial plasticizers found in school supplies

Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporter

Published: Monday, August 27, 2012

Pointing to new research that detected potentially harmful plasticizers in children's school supplies, a senior Senate Democrat called on the White House to release draft chemical regulations that it has been reviewing for more than two years.

New York Democrat Chuck Schumer said the government has waited too long to act on phthalates, a class of plasticizers commonly used to make vinyl flexible. He released a new study that found 80 percent of back-to-school products tested contained the chemicals, and three-quarters had levels that exceed the federal limit for toys.

Exposure to high levels of phthalates has been linked to several health effects, including premature puberty, asthma and diabetes, according to the study.

"School supplies are supposed to help our children with their education, they shouldn't be harming their health," Schumer said in a statement. "We don't allow high levels of these toxic chemicals in children's toys and we certainly shouldn't allow them in back-to-school products."

Schumer sent a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget urging it to complete its review of U.S. EPA's proposed "chemicals of concern" list. The draft, which was submitted to OMB in May 2010, would identify phthalates and several other substances including bisphenol A, or BPA, as containing the potential to present an unreasonable health risk. The proposal could be the first step toward regulating the chemicals.

"As OMB has continued to review EPA's proposal for over two years, American children and families continue to be exposed to potentially dangerous levels of these toxic chemicals," Schumer wrote. "The science only continues to grow stronger that phthalates may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment."

The Democrat highlighted a study from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) and Empire State Consumer Project that detected phthalates in plastic backpacks, lunch boxes, rain boots and hard binders.

Mike Schade of CHEJ said most of the products contained phthalate levels that exceed a federal standard for toys set by Congress in 2008. The study claims, for example, that a Dora the Explorer backpack contained levels more than 69 times that federal standard.

"Unfortunately, while phthalates have been banned in children's toys, similar safeguards don't yet exist to keep them out of lunch boxes, backpacks and other children's school supplies," Schade said.

The 20 back-to-school supplies were purchased recently in New York City at stores including Kmart, Duane Reade and Payless. They were tested at Paradigm Environmental Services in Rochester, N.Y.

Public health advocates have long said the use of phthalates in vinyl goods poses a risk to children, and there has been an increased focus on the substances in various regulatory bodies. Denmark, for example, said over the weekend that it plans to ban four phthalates ahead of a European Union review of the substances next spring.

Industry, however, has strongly pushed back on those assertions -- arguing that phthalates have been thoroughly reviewed by regulatory bodies around the world.

The American Chemistry Council said today that phthalates are "some of the most tested substances in commerce."

"Parents should feel confident as they purchase their children's school supplies," ACC said in a statement. "There is no reliable evidence that phthalates have ever caused any harm to any human in more than fifty years of use."

ACC has also pushed back against Schumer's call for OMB to finish its review of the chemicals of concern proposal. The trade association, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some members of Congress -- including Democrats -- have suggested that if the list is promulgated without rigorous scientific review, it would have an unjustified negative effect on commerce.


Push for Safe Chemicals Act

Schumer's letter is also part of a broader push by some Democrats and public health advocates for the Senate to take up New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg's "Safe Chemicals Act," S. 847 <http://www.eenews.net/bills/112/Senate/090611150815.pdf> , which would overhaul how EPA regulates chemicals.

The Democrat's bill would overhaul the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, shifting the burden of proving a substance is safe before it goes on the market from EPA to industry.

Schumer is a co-sponsor of the bill, which cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last month.

Lautenberg has said he hopes the full Senate will take up the bill this year, but so far he has yet to attract any Republican co-sponsors.

Some in industry, including ACC, remain opposed to Lautenberg's bill, characterizing it as "unworkable."

Visit <http://www.eenews.net/assets/2012/08/27/document_gw_05.pdf> for Schumer's letter to OMB.

Posted on 8/27/2012 (Archive on 9/17/2012)

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