The chemical industry hides behind touchy-feely name and Obama’s OMB acts a lot like it did under Bush.

by Andrew Schneider on October 27, 2009

The Coalition for Chemical Safety sounds like just the kind of group to which environmental activists would swarm.

The images on their Web site are iconic: A child holding the hand of a grownup, a worker’s hard hat with an American flag decal, a family photo.

Their message is that you must tell Congress it’s time to reform our nation’s chemical safety laws.

Sign up and they say they will inundate federal lawmakers with e-mails under your name reminding them that it’s time to change the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Substances Control Act in a way that will “protect public health, preserve American jobs and innovation.”

chemical coalitionIf you didn’t look closely, this would seem like a warm and cuddly group that is fighting to keep the chemical industry from endangering children, the environment and people just like you.

The coalition offers no address or telephone number at which to contact them and calls itself “a non-profit social welfare organization.”

But if you check the interactive map on the coalition’s website, the three or four “members” in the 13 states listed are mostly agri-business, chemical and industry trade associations.

Richard Denison, a senior scientist from the Environmental Defense Fund calls the coalition an “Immaculate Deception” that is actually an industry front group.

He agrees that the chemical industry is a key stakeholder in the debate over TSCA reform and it has a right to organize and advocate for its views.

“But surely it can do all of that without wrapping itself in a ‘people like you’ cloak of deception!” Denison says.

Denison and another researcher in Washington traced the creator of the Web site’s domain name and found it was registered by an issues management and public relations firm called Democracy Data & Communications, LLC.

Denison asks, “Why are they so afraid of showing themselves?’’

Many environmental regulators and activists had expected the Obama administration to be a strong ally, especially when it came to trying ensure the public is protected from harmful chemicals.

But earlier this month, the chemical industry received an unexpected gift when the White House Office of Management and Budget prevented EPA from requiring safety data on pesticides that Congress had required years earlier.

The OMB – which oversees regulatory policies – was notorious for bending over backwards in previous administrations to please industry, especially in regulations involving the environment and public health and safety.

Eleven years ago, as part of the Food Quality Protection Act, Congress demanded that EPA include an Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. Endocrine disruption can interfere with reproduction and development and other hormone-controlled processes.

In April, EPA ordered that manufacturers of 67 pesticides – the first selected for screening – test and identify possible endocrine disruptors in their chemical brews.

Earlier this month, the White House office told EPA headquarters to back off and to evaluate the safety of the pesticides with existing, and knowingly inadequate toxicity data rather than requiring the submission of endocrine disruptor information.

“The OMB decision is a gift to the pesticide makers that will gut our efforts to protect children and the environment from dangerous agricultural chemicals,” says a senior EPA scientist, who can’t be identified because he is not authorized to speak for the agency.

“Where are the differences that this new administration promised.  At least with the Bush gang we expected it. With Obama, it’s like a gut punch.”

The OMB directive has some environmentalists concerned that Obama’s political people may not stand tall for revamping TSCA. For three decades the Act was the backbone of the federal government’s attempt to ensure the safety of the production, sale, use and disposal of almost everything chemical.

But environmental regulators and activists say the law needs to be strengthened, needs to be given more teeth, and needs to make industry more accountable for the chemicals it creates.

The Obama Administration has said it wants Congress to reauthorize and significantly strengthen the effectiveness of TSCA, especially with new chemicals and scores of nanoparticle creations flowing from laboratories.

Among the changes EPA wants is to ensure that manufacturers provide it with information to determine the safety of existing chemicals. And if industry refuses, EPA wants authority to quickly require testing.

Under the current law, companies could refuse to provide EPA with information on potential chemical risks by claiming the data was “confidential business information.’’

Agency investigators and some industry whistleblowers documented that the confidentiality claim was often a sham to prevent EPA from instituting adequate safety controls.

The proposed changes in TSCA call for stricter requirements for manufacturers to substantiate their claims of confidentiality.

This new openness, should it be achieved, especially with pesticides, will improve the safety of farm workers, people live in agricultural communities and children eating the fruits and vegetables needed to thrive.

Here is a link to OMB’s directive.


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephenie Hendricks October 28, 2009 at 08:21

Andy, your stories should be on the front page of the Washington Post!

Erik October 28, 2009 at 15:57

You do know pesticides are regulated under FIFRA, and not TSCA, right? This article implies otherwise to me.

Paul Whaley October 30, 2009 at 05:27

I can’t seem to find the Coalition’s website. Joe’s link above looks broken.

@Joe Householder – I’d be interested to know what position the Coalition taking on chemical safety and how it thinks the TSCA should be reformed?

It might be that we have different ideas as to what counts as good legislation, even if we have the same goal of putting safety first.

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