.News Update 12/12/08

Chemical Regulatory Reform Advocates Send Plan to ObamaL

December 19, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama received an extensive plan this week from advocates for chemical regulatory reform and the Precautionary Principle. precaution.org/lib/08/prn_chem_reform_for_obama.081124.htm. Enthusiastic offers were made to assist in building support for making the necessary policy changes in order to protect public health and the environment.

Precautionary Principle advocates described the urgent need for reform of the U.S. chemical regulatory policy. They cited recent examples, including public concerns about chemicals in baby bottles, infant formula, toys, canned food and pet food. The chemicals policy activists include scientists, health advocates, physicians, health-affected groups and worker organizations who urged Obama to protect children, communities, workers and the environment from chemical exposure now and in the future.

The Precautionary Principle is a moral principle stating that if an action potentially harms the public or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if the cause and effect relationships are not fully scientifically established. In the absence of scientific consensus of whether harm will occur, the burden of procuring proof falls on those who advocate the action. In regards to potentially harmful chemical use, the authors suggested that the Obama Administration take five steps to move the country away from toxic chemicals and toward a new green energy economy.

First, they asked Obama to gather and hire the brightest leaders in the area of toxics regulatory reform, all free of financial ties to the chemical industry. This step would help set a public interest research agenda that brings together green chemistry, green energy and green engineering technologies and establish an inalienable right to a clean and healthy environment, which is protected by the courts.

Second, the advocates asked for ethical chemical regulatory reform that would establish a fundamental right to protection from exposure to toxic substances, such as chemicals and radiation.

Another step requires revamping the chemical evaluation process, including adopting a thorough method to assess any chemical for potential harmfulness if plans are made to produce, market or continue its use. Where safe substitutes are available now, a phase-out approach for suspected materials must begin immediately.

Further, the "gag order" imposed on U.S. federal scientists must be lifted immediately. The authors addressed federal facilities that pose the danger of an off-site chemical release, stating that there is an immediate need for a structured review focused on assessing alternatives to the chemical use, rather than risk.

Encouraging public participation in the decision-making process was highlighted, along with the need to include the voice of environmental justice communities. Environmental monitoring of the water, air and soil was also stressed.

The final step creates economic vitality by strengthening the protections from toxic chemical exposure by providing incentives for industries, such as the chemical industry, to develop substitutions for their products that will protect workers, customers and communities.

In the end, the authors requested a timeline to develop policy for the reform of the chemical regulatory process. They wrote, "U.S. chemical regulatory policy must understand and implement the Precautionary Principle so that we may finally join the modern chemical policies of other countries around the world."

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