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  • TSCA "Reform": Consensus May Again Prove Toxic

    April 25, 2016 9:04 AM

    According to a story in Bloomberg BNA, a final vote on legislation to reform the nation’s chemical law—the Toxic Substances Control Act—may be imminent. The story quotes Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who explained at a congressional hearing the other day, “It looks like now we’re [the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee] just a matter of hopefully hours away of having an agreement with the House.”

    The legislation generally has broad support from many well-meaning members of Congress. In fact, it’s hard to find anyone who criticizes the reform (other than myself). With time growing short, I guess this may be one of the last times I can issue a warning before I can say, “I told you so.”

    I hope to be wrong, but it appears that many supporters of TSCA reform are charting an all-too-familiar, ill-fated course. Like most environmental laws, TSCA reform is likely to pass by a near, if not total, majority, with most members blindly following the “consensus.” But once it’s law, they may live to regret it.

    Passage of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) in 1996 by the Republican-led Congress is a perfect example how members and Washington lobbyists can support a bill today, and lament the final law later.

  • The Devil, the Details, and "Consensus" for "TSCA Modernization"

    April 20, 2016 3:14 PM

    For some reason, there’s always near “consensus” when Congress passes environmental laws that later become controversial (for data, see my study from 2008 on this topic). There are probably two key reasons for this. First, no member wants to appear “anti-environmental” by voting against “green” legislation; and second, few members are paying much attention to the details.

    And that’s what appears to be happening with the latest attempt to reform the nation’s chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). It seems like everyone is on board with the idea that the law needs “modernizing,” including both parties in the House of Representatives and Senate, numerous industry groups, environmental activists (some but not all support current proposals), and even some right-of-center policy groups that are usually more skeptical of federal action.

  • Trust in Government: A Bad Strategy for the Chemical Industry

    April 1, 2016 4:01 PM

    There is a reason why people laugh when you say: “Trust me, I come from the government.” Governments are not particularly trustworthy because bureaucracies are not particularly efficient, and when they are efficient, there’s sometimes more reason to fear than trust.

    Yet for the past several years, the chemical industry has been trusting the idea that giving more power to feds will save them from a growing patchwork of nonsensical state regulations. Pardon me for being skeptical.

    To that end, the chemical industry is pushing legislation (S. 697 and H.R. 2576) to reform the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), versions of which have passed both houses of Congress and are now subject to conference committee negotiations. Their best possible result would be a federal law that preempted state regulations for chemicals already regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

    In exchange for preemption, industry was willing to support TSCA reforms that would give the EPA more power to both collect data from chemical companies and to issue regulations based on that data. These reforms would also eliminate the current TSCA requirement that calls on EPA to impose only the “least burdensome” approaches when it does regulate, a provision that has prevented EPA from passing wrongheaded and scientifically unsound policies in the past.

  • Shady Marketing Claims for "Green" Cleaning Products

    March 30, 2016 2:44 PM

    Serena Ng of The Wall Street Journal reports today on the murky world of marketing for “green” and “natural” household products. Ads for these flower-scented and creatively-named brands often claim—or, at least, strongly imply—that they are safer and healthier that mainstream cleaning and deodorizing agents. Such claims are often made even when both products are chemically similar or borderline identical. 

    Ng points out that Nature’s Power laundry detergent, sold proudly by Whole Foods, contains sodium laureth sulfate, which they produce from vegetable oil. Arm & Hammer (owned by the same company, Church & Dwight), makes detergent that also contains sodium laureth sulfate, except in Arm & Hammer’s case, it is made from petroleum. It’s the same chemical compound, but when it goes into Nature’s Power it is “plant-derived,” and when it goes into Arm & Hammer, it’s a synthetic petrochemical.

    That kind of distinction without a difference has recently come to anger the consumers who assumed that there was, well, a difference. Cosmopolitan, for example, reported yesterday that home, baby, and skin-care products maker The Honest Company is being sued by customers for claiming that their products don’t contain any sodium laureth sulfate, although lab tests allegedly contradict that. Cosmo’s editorial staff, by the way, is presumably on the story because of the connection to Honest Company cofounder and Teen Choice Award–winning actress Jessica Alba.

  • Glyphosate Saves Lives, Reduces Child Labor, and More

    March 25, 2016 12:15 PM

    David Zaruk, aka the Risk Monger, has produced an excellent series of blog posts on why the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in “Roundup”) is a wonderful thing, despite “cancer classifications” and demonization by greens. In a refreshingly blunt and honest series of posts, he makes some fantastic points that must shock green activists who can’t imagine why anyone would dare use a chemical to control noxious weeds, grow food, and feed the world. 

    Some key points that Zaruk offers include:

    1. Weed killers help reduce child labor. Yes, that’s what I said. Zaruk has real-life experience to prove it. Check out this post.
    2. The cancer researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have lost credibility within Europe’s scientific community because of their reckless classification of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic.” Indeed, the decision is tainted with junk science, anti-pesticide activism, and politics. Zaruk has all the details here and here.
    3. “Glyphosate Saves Lives.” That’s item #6 on Zaruk’s post: “10 Reasons why Glyphosate is Good.” Zaruk offers so much insightful information in this post that it should be mandatory reading for anyone who doubts that weed killers can be safe, good for the environment, and yes, even save lives. Check it out.
  • Doing Away with Government Flammability Standards

    March 24, 2016 3:17 PM

    During the past several years, there’s been much hype in the news alleging that flame retardant chemicals used on upholstered furniture pose unacceptable health risks. With these alarmist claims abounding, some green minded individuals complain that they unknowingly purchased couches that contain these chemicals because furniture manufacturers apply them to meet government flammability standards. To address this concern, activist groups advocate banning a wide number of chemical flame retardants. While I don’t buy their claims about these chemicals being dangerous and certainly oppose bans, no one should be essentially forced into buying products that contain them.

    Accordingly, in my recently released paper on the topic, I make a bold call for the elimination of government flammability standards for furniture and other consumer products. This may sound extreme to some, but it’s actually a far more balanced and reasonable approach than is banning valuable flame retardant technologies. Shifting to voluntary flammability standards would actually be safer and meet consumer demands far better. In a nut shell, a private system would improve the situation in three key ways. It would:

    1. Reduce the destructive impact of politics on flammability standard setting;
    2. Better serve multiple consumer demands; and
    3. Allow the fire safety experts to more quickly adjust standards to meet changing conditions and improving science.
  • Regulation Poses Biggest Threat to Monarch Butterflies

    March 7, 2016 10:37 AM

    Like many nature lovers and gardeners, last year I launched a milkweed garden for monarch butterflies, starting from seed. After a long summer of manually picking pesky milkweed bugs and aphids off the plants, I noticed one monarch caterpillar. Success! I hope that caterpillar made it to the butterfly stage, and then took off to Mexico where many monarchs overwinter.

    My efforts represent a tiny part of a larger effort to save these butterflies through private conservation, whose numbers have dwindled in recent decades. Such efforts may have begun to pay off as the number of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico this year is up! Of course, one year does not make a trend and other factor play a role such as weather. But private conservation is certainly a key element in helping this marvelous species of butterflies survive.

    The Christian Science Monitor reports: “This year’s overwintering population in Mexico was: “3.5 times greater than the previous season, which saw 2.8 acres of butterflies. This is also up from the record low of 1.66 acres in 2013.” However, the number of overwintering butterflies is still 32 percent below the “historic average,” the Monitor reports.

    Unfortunately, private efforts to create habitat for the butterflies could come to a halt if the federal government decides it needs to step in and list the monarch as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Some environmental groups have petitioned the Department of Interior to list the species as endangered. Once a species is listed, regulations may apply to its habitat, and the costs to farmers and other property owners can be substantial. Such costs and regulations discourage people from creating and maintaining habitat for endangered species. And in extreme cases, people will destroy habitat to avoid potential regulations.

    And one Texas butterfly enthusiast points out:

    According to the 159-page petition’s final line, if “threatened” status is approved, such activities would be a crime.  People like me and you will be allowed to raise “fewer than ten Monarchs per year by any individual, household or educational entity”–unless that activity is “overseen by a scientist, conservation organization, or other entity dedicated to the conservation of the species.”

    It is ironic that an allegedly pro-species law would erode the butterfly’s habitat by potentially punishing people for creating habitat by planting and cultivating milkweed, which the butterflies need to breed. monarch butterflies lay eggs on the milkweed, which hatch and grow into caterpillars that eat milkweed, which is poisonous. The poisons in the milkweed make the caterpillars poisonous to many potential predators. 

  • Zika Wake-Up Call

    February 4, 2016 11:29 AM

    The spread of the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus should be yet another wake-up call for public officials around the world. As a relatively new threat, Zika has captured headlines in a world where many insect-transmitted diseases continue to wreak havoc on public health. Unfortunately, the ability to control all such vector-borne diseases is hindered by more than our limited scientific understanding. Disease control is limited by the lack of political will to use all tools in our arsenal, including politically incorrect pesticides.

    Zika has long been known to cause mild infections and rashes, but health officials are now investigating the possibility that it can cause birth defects when mothers are infected during pregnancy. The disease appeared in Brazil last spring and during 2015, the nation experienced a dramatic increase of babies born with neurodevelopmental problems associated with unusually small heads, a defect called microcephaly. Researchers are investigating whether the two phenomenon are connected. They are also investigating the possibility that Zika caused an increase of Guillain–Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease.

    Regardless of what they find, we already know that mosquito borne diseases cause a wide range of health effects that include neurological problems as well as immediately deadly infections.  The impact in impoverished nations is devastating with diseases like Malaria and Dengue taking millions of lives every year.

  • The Many Bad Reasons to Support TSCA "Reform"

    October 19, 2015 9:54 AM

    With reform to nation’s chemical law—the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—basically around the corner, groups from both left and right are commenting on why we need reform and for some, why the current proposals should pass quickly. But the reasons they offer aren’t very compelling.

    The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) exclaims in a press release:

    Our nation’s chemical safety laws are outdated. Without reform, we’ll likely see a continued proliferation of costly and ineffective state-based chemical regulatory programs that confuse consumers and manufacturers alike. Congress must restore the public’s confidence in EPA’s chemical control laws, and one way of doing so is by passing S. 697.

    TSCA may be old, but it has the best risk standard on the books, as I note here. And passing a major bureaucratic regulatory initiative to “restore public confidence” is, well, just plain dumb.

    I do understand CEA’s position on using reform to halt bad state-level laws. But it’s not clear this reform will accomplish that task. Sure, it would be great if we could pass a law that would curb a growing patchwork of ill-conceived and dangerous state-level chemical regulations that impede interstate commerce, raise consumer prices, reduce choice, and force product reformulations resulting in inferior consumer products. And current proposals include some language to preempt such laws under certain circumstances, but overall these provisions may be too weak to make a difference. 

  • Green Alarmism about Sunscreen Debunked

    August 4, 2015 7:03 AM

    Often spoon-fed alarmist hype by green activist groups, reporters rarely get the science right about the risks associated with trace chemicals found in consumer products. Accordingly, kudos go to the author of a piece published on Fox News (originally published on Health.com), which debunks activist-generated misinformation about chemicals used to make sunscreens. In the past, I have pointed out that Fox News has blindly reported misinformation pushed by greens, particularly the Environmental Working Group, so this latest report is refreshing. 

    The story explains:

    [T]he skin experts Health talked to were adamant that we should be more worried about shielding our skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays than about the chemical makeup of the products we’re using to do that.

    “Five million Americans are treated for skin cancer each year, and an estimated 9,940 people will die of melanoma”— the deadliest type of skin cancer— ”in 2015,” Steven Wang, MD, head of dermatological surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Basking Ridge in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, told Health. “The biggest precaution that you should be taking is using sunscreen. There is enough research at this point from various credible bodies that say sunscreens are safe and, when used appropriately, will reduce skin cancer.”

    This reporter appears to understand that we need to consider the benefits of products and weigh them against the risks. And it should be clear to any honest observer, that avoiding the real and substantial risk of skin cancer from sun exposure, is far higher than any theoretical and unproven risks associated with short-term, trace exposures to certain manmade chemicals.

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