More of the same: EWG and Sen. Lautenberg promote precautionary principle

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Much to the delight of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) continues to trumpet scientifically senseless and burdensome regulation to “protect” children from so-called toxic chemicals. Sen. Lautenberg has been trying to revamp the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 since 2005, and his crusade continues now with his introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. The new bill, if passed, would require chemical companies to abide by the precautionary principle, proving their products are completely risk-free for human health and the environment prior to their sale and distribution. Companies would be required to submit all health and safety data to the EPA, which would set priorities among more than 84,000 chemicals in the agency’s inventory.

It comes as no surprise to ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross that the EWG is wholeheartedly supporting the efforts of Sen. Lautenberg, but he points out that there are two main problems with the approach of EWG and of their chemophobic Senatorial fans: “First, to them, every chemical is ‘toxic,’ and second, they’re demanding proof of safety before allowing the use of these chemicals, but as in the case of bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, isn’t 50 years of safe use sufficient to scientifically demonstrate safety? And what would replace those chemicals banned under this Luddite statute?”

“This law is based on the premise that trace level exposure to chemicals is hazardous to health. Sen. Lautenberg is trying to ‘protect’ us from these chemicals, but there’s absolutely no evidence they have harmed humans or the environment,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

ACSH's Dr. Josh Bloom is more curious as to how the EPA would go about testing all 84,000 chemicals (no small task), and at what doses? “83,900 of those chemicals may very well show some toxicity at extremely high doses, so then what do you do with these data? You have to then make certain assumptions about the relevance of the high-dose data to the real world. In other words, you have to guess. I don’t see what this will accomplish.”

Dr. Ross adds that it is impossible to “prove” safety. “If the precautionary principle were further entrenched, then scientific, technological and medical progress would come to a grinding halt, which may be what these people actually want.”