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Chemical regulation necessary

We applaud our own Sen. Tom Udall for taking a first step toward protecting New Mexicans from toxic chemicals (see “Udall Pushes Tighter Chemical Rules” in the July 31 Journal), but he must do more.

People mistakenly assume that government is protecting the public from unnecessary exposures from toxins in products or released into our air, water or lands.

Due to flaws in the language of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA has only been able to require health testing of 200 of the over 80,000 chemicals used today. We are especially concerned by comments made by our own State Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuq., (see “Reforming Chemicals Law Will Make Society Safer,” published Aug. 4) that endorse the currently proposed Chemical Safety Improvement Act as written.

The act will codify new flaws into law that will make it as toothless and ineffective as the current law and additionally will prevent states from acting in the absence of federal protections.

Trujillo makes the mistaken claim that the proposed law will “require EPA to evaluate risks posed to particularly vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant women.” The law will only require “assessing the vulnerability of [unspecified] exposed subpopulations” when determining who is exposed to a chemical.

Further, the bill does not require health and safety standards to protect these or any other vulnerable populations or “hotspot” communities that are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals. “Assessment” with no enforceable action is no use to our communities.

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act will prevent existing state protections from toxic chemicals to be enacted before federal protections are put in place. To make matters worse, there is no funding and few enforceable deadlines specified in the bill, inviting delay and avoidance of implementation of the law.

For these multiple reasons physicians, health organizations and environmental justice communities across the country are calling for the act to be strengthened so that it can really protect the health of all people – including vulnerable populations – in a manner that we all, including Udall and Trujillo, would surely like to see.