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"Green Briefs"

Enviros oppose to new chemical regulation bills

Earthjustice and The Sierra Club, environmental nonprofits, are promoting a letter-writing campaign to oppose new bills regulating toxic chemicals.

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 is the most recent federal legislation regulating toxins in our environment. It granted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the authority to require testing, recordkeeping, reporting and restrictions on chemical substances, but does not include food, drugs, cosmetics or pesticides.

The TSCA controls production, use, importation and disposal of chemicals such as asbestos, radon, lead-based paint and polychlorinated biphenyls. Two bills attempting to modernize TSCA are under review.

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act, introduced in 2013, requires the EPA to “conduct a safety assessment of each high-priority chemical, establish requirements for risk management of such chemicals based on the assessment’s results, and base such assessment solely on considerations of risk to human health and the environment,” according to the bill, which is sponsored by the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. Only chemicals labeled as a priority by the EPA undergo safety assessments. A congressional committee is scheduled to address the bill on May 22.

The second chemical safety bill being considered this year, the Chemicals in Commerce Act, is under much more scrutiny. The bill focuses on manufacturing and industrial success and includes two prioritization categories for chemicals based on exposure and hazard levels.

“By providing greater regulatory certainty and transparency and restoring confidence in U.S. products, this legislation will encourage further expansion and hiring in the U.S. chemical industry,” according to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee. “The U.S. economy is heavily reliant on chemicals, and a strong regulatory system is needed to encourage growth and facilitate commerce across several sectors of the econowwmy.” The committee cites that 96 percent of manufactured goods in the U.S. use chemicals in production.

The bill faces a lot of opposition. According to the California nonprofit Center for Environmental Health, the proposed prioritization process will reduce transparency about chemical health and safety information.

According to the National Resource Defense Council, the bill has “no language directing EPA to take action on an expedited basis to begin reducing exposure.”

Since chemicals have to be examined on an individual basis, “even chemicals internationally recognized as some of the most problematic — because they are toxic and build up in the environment and our bodies — will be stuck in the same traffic jam to nowhere with all the other chemicals,” said NRDC writer Daniel Rosenberg. “The House bill makes this even worse by making it harder for EPA to regulate chemicals if they are in ‘articles’ — so keeping these chemicals out of things like furniture and carpets would face a new hurdle.”

The nonprofit Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition says the proposed Act is “undermining public health and safety in the name of reform,” that it “undermines restrictions on toxic chemicals in consumer products,” and hides safety information from the public and restricts states’ health rights.

Manufacturers are in support of the TSCA modernization bills, saying they will create jobs.

“We believe the draft Chemicals in Commerce Act will provide EPA the ability to more effectively protect the public and environment from harmful chemical substances, while providing industry a clearer and more consistent regulatory roadmap at the federal level,” says Jennifer Thomas, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

James Stem, a spokesman for the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Union, believes the bill will improve the U.S.’s manufacturing processes as well as create jobs.

“Modernizing TSCA takes on new urgency as our American chemical industry prepares to make major investments in U.S. production facilities in the wake of the natural gas boom,” Stem says. “We support reform that will achieve the following goals: strengthen our chemical safety law to protect human health and the environment; restore public confidence about the safety of chemicals in commerce; and help the U.S. chemical industry innovate and grow, providing good jobs.”

Earth Justice and Sierra Club’s opposing letter, “Please Stand Behind Real TSCA Reform!,” points out that TSCA is three decades old and approved 80,000 untested chemicals that are now linked to illnesses including eating disorders, learning disabilities, diabetes and cancer for household use.

It calls for action specific to the vulnerable citizens who are exposed to such chemicals in their environment such as pregnant women, children and the working class.

For more, visit sierraclub.org.


by: COURTESY OF WILLAMETTE PARTNERSHIP - The new Honoring Our Rivers student art and writing anthology will be released April 19. Students will read from the anthology May 4 at Powells City of Books. This is the cover of the 2013 anthology.Honoring Our Rivers anthology release

Honoring Our Rivers, a statewide art contest sponsored by the Willamette Partnership, celebrates its 14th birthday by publishing an anthology of past years.

Winning art is displayed at community events, public readings and art displays. The release celebration is scheduled for 4 p.m. May 4 with students reading and presenting their works at Powell’s City of Books on West Burnside Street in Portland.

Honoring Our Rivers was built to engage and educate children about the challenges facing Oregon watersheds and to give them a connection with the environment.

A panel of 15 judges including educators, river advocates and published authors select student submissions to publish alongside work by professionals. In recent years, authors included Ursula LeGuin, Barry Lopez and Jane Kirkpatrick.

The program received a record-breaking number of river-related writing and artwork submissions this year; there were over 800 submissions from 70 schools, from kindergarten students to undergraduates. Those selected for print will be published in color, a first for Honoring Our Rivers, and the anthology will be released on April 19. More than 4,000 copies will be donated to students, families, schools, libraries and community events.

For more, visit honoringourriver.org.


OSU researchers test blight fight options

Oregon State University researchers have proven the effectiveness of two organic alternatives for controlling a disease that can wipe out apple and pear orchards.

Scientists found that spraying a yeast-based product and new water-soluble copper products at the beginning of the growing season provided protection from the bacterial disease.

The findings come as organic growers prepare for a probable ban on two antibiotics previously allowed by the National Organics Standards Board. At the end of this year’s growing season, oxytetracycline and potentially streptomycin will no longer be permitted in organic orchards for fire blight, a serious bacterial disease that can kill trees.

Spread by bees and rain, fire blight remains dormant in trees during the winter and infects flowers in spring. Once infected, growers can only stop the disease by cutting out infections, which can prove fatal.

Organic pome fruit growers are encouraged to test new approaches this year before antibiotics are no longer available as backup choices.

Since the National Organic Program began in 2002, the use of antibiotics was allowed to control fire blight on apples and pears because no effective alternative was available at the time. The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.