I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

September 8, 2010

Protecting ourselves from harmful chemical exposures: Your chance for input

National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures


Project goals – http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/nationalconversation/accomplish.html

The National Conversation’s vision is to ensure that chemicals are used and managed in safe and healthy ways for all people.  The goal of the National Conversation is to develop an action agenda—clear, achievable recommendations—that will help government agencies and other organizations strengthen their efforts to protect the public from harmful chemical exposures.  The action agenda will help our nation identify better ways to

  • Collect information about chemical use, people who are exposed, and the levels at which they are exposed.
  • Understand how chemicals affect people’s health.
  • Use policies and practices that tell us about risks, how to reduce harmful exposures, and how to create and use safe chemicals.
  • Prevent, prepare for, and respond to chemical-related emergencies.
  • Protect all communities from harmful chemical exposures.
  • Create a well-informed public and health care provider network to help people understand chemical exposure risks.
  • Involve the public in government decision making.
  • Encourage teamwork among partner groups and agencies.

To help with this, work groups were formed last year to discuss six cross-cutting issues.  After receiving public input, they have released draft reports for public comment.  You can download the report for each work group from the pages linked to below and submit your comments via those pages, e-mail or other means listed there.

CDC and ATSDR are working with RESOLVE, a non-profit facilitation group that will compile the comments, as well as other organizations such as the American Public Health Association, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and National Association of County and City Health Officials.

April 5, 2010

National Conversation on protecting the public from harmful chemical exposures (April 5-7)

“CDC’s National Conversation Happening Now,” The Pump Handle blog post on the CDC and ATSDR’s National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures, a two-year project sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

There will be discussions about:

To register for the dialogue, click here.

March 8, 2010

Identifying dangerous chemicals

In 1997, the Environmental Defense Fund published Toxic Ignorance, a report on the lack of basic toxicity information about many industrial chemicals.

Thirteen years later EDF is still pursuing improving chemical testing and assessment data for High Production Volume chemicals.

The law governing the production of toxic chemicals is called the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  EDF’s Richard Denison, among others, has been calling for reforming U.S. chemicals policy through strengthening TSCA (his blog on chemicals and nanotechnology is in my blogroll).  In one post he describes some of the actions taken under Lisa Jackson, Obama’s EPA Administrator.

Of note is the fact that EPA announced late last year that it was moving from a voluntary program called ChAMP to an enhanced chemical management program.  (EDF blog posts on problems with ChAMP, a now superseded program)

In addition to its Toxic Ignorance, EDF has published more reports recently

  • EDF’s 2007 report Not That Innocent documented the urgent need for policy reform. Our analysis contrasted U.S. policies with those in Canada and the European Union and identified “best practices” culled from all three systems that together create a vision for future U.S. chemicals policy.
  • Our September 2008 report Across the Pond assessed one of the first impacts that the new European regulation called REACH will have on U.S. companies and chemicals: REACH’s identification of “substances of very high concern.”
  • EDF scientist Richard Denison’s paper Ten Essential Elements in TSCA Reform, published in January 2009 in the Environmental Law Reporter, laid out a blueprint for new legislation to replace the outmoded Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

(from the EDF page on “Chemicals Policy Reform”)

EDF is also a founding member of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign, which issued its own Platform for Reform of TSCA.

Why is this important? Well, because there’s an awful lot we don’t know about chemicals and their effect on health.  Denison addresses this in a blog post back in May 2009.  Among the things he advocates there (emphasis in original):

  • For each chemical assessed, clearly identify and communicate to the public all gaps or quality concerns in available data.  (My comment: It is interesting to contrast EPA’s approach vs. that of ATSDR in its Toxicological Profiles.  (alternate URL: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxpro2.html) See below for more info on ATSDR.)
  • Stop assigning low-priority rankings to chemicals, especially those with data gaps in the most basic, minimum set of screening-level hazard data. As we said before, it’s one thing for EPA to identify as high-hazard those chemicals where, despite the data gaps, available data demonstrate high toxicity. It’s quite another for EPA to effectively exonerate chemicals as low-hazard or low-priority when not even a bare-minimum data set is available for them.
  • Adopt a health-protective approach to hazard screening: Where data are uncertain, of questionable quality or equivocal, assume a hazard exists until and unless a chemical’s manufacturer provides the data to show otherwise.


The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), based in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  ATSDR’s mission is to determine human health effects associated with toxic exposures, prevent continued exposures, and mitigate associated human health risks at Superfund sites.

ATSDR first identifies data needs in its Toxicological Profiles for certain substances. The data needs are then subjected to further evaluation and prioritized.  When data gaps are identified, they are described in the documents.  (If you look at any of the Tox Profiles, you will see a subsection in several chapters called “Adequacy of the database.”)

While the Tox Profiles cover very nasty chemicals, the irony of this is that these are chemicals found at Superfund sites (of which, according to ATSDR, there are about 1,200).  However, many of these same chemicals are still being manufactured (as well as chemicals for which we have even less data than the Tox Profile ones!) in plants all over the country and the number of places probably far exceeds 1,200.

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