Imagine if your pediatrician were to tell you that activities “as ordinary, as innocent and as essential to life” as eating, drinking, breathing and touching are actually part of a “grim game of chemical roulette” that can lead to life-long health effects.

Imagine if your obstetrician told you that there are chemicals in the most common household products — shampoos, plastic storage containers, or shower curtains — that damage brain function in a developing fetus, and are linked to autism, learning disabilities and behavioral disorders.

Those words “chemical roulette” are as true today as they were in 1976, when Russell Train, then U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, used them to describe the need for the Toxics Substances Control Act. Congress passed TSCA, which was intended to protect public health from the risks of chemicals in everyday products.

Sadly, it is no secret that TSCA has failed miserably.

Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office condemned TSCA as ineffective because it fails to collect data on the toxicity of chemicals. TSCA cannot even effectively limit or ban the worst-of-the-worst toxic chemicals in everyday products. Even asbestos, with its widely understood health hazards, has not met the impossible threshold of requirements to be regulated under the law (asbestos was banned because of lawsuits, not TSCA).

It’s been almost 40 years since TSCA became law, and families across the United States are still waiting for it to be fixed. But here is the even more terrible news: Some elected officials are not only failing to fix this ineffective, broken law — they are actually considering a proposal to turn that law into a system that would actively undermine existing public health protections.

Despite the failings of TSCA, our nation has managed, state-by-state, to collect some data and protect the public from some of the worst toxics in everyday products. Maine has led the way in this effort with the Kid Safe Products Act of 2008, which creates a process to identify the worst household chemicals based on health hazards and harmful exposure.

The Kid Safe Products Act gives policymakers the tools to prioritize chemicals for action in order to protect the health of our children and grandchildren.

But a bill now being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives targets the progress developed by states like Maine. 

The Chemicals in Commerce Act reads like a wish list from the chemical industry lobby.

First, it takes power away from states and places it in the hands of the EPA. Then, it shackles the EPA so that it cannot possibly take effective action on toxic chemicals. And finally, it slams and locks the door on any prospect for state action in the future.

We desperately need a new solution for managing toxic chemicals. Now is the time for action in Congress, but the Chemicals in Commerce Act is a deeply disturbing step in the wrong direction.

Every day in our work we see families bearing the burden of asthma, autism, cancer and birth defects. We help them manage the health effects that they cannot reverse. Without a doubt, toxic chemicals play a role in some of these cases, but as a nation we simply don’t have a way to prevent, or even understand, these chemical exposures.

Families from Maine and across the country need Congress to ensure that any update to the broken TSCA law is effective and takes critical steps in the right direction.

It is time that chemicals are finally proven safe before being used in products, and that the worst toxic chemicals are taken out of household products quickly.

Simply put, it is time to protect our children from toxic chemicals. Anything else is unacceptable.

Dr. Steven Feder is a Damariscotta pediatrician and the president of the Maine Academy of Pediatrics. Tracy Gregoire, born and raised in Lewiston, is the coordinator for the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine.

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