OTI Environmental News 2015
19 DECEMBER 2015, Issue 852
In this issue:
TOXIC SUBSTANCES CONTROL ACT
"A major Chemical Safety Bill Could Become Law by Early Next Year. Here’s What You Should Know." Washington Post, December 19, 2015.
BIOLOGICAL HAZARDS
"Even Though Snakebites Kill 200,000 Every Year, Research Loses Funding." Washington Post, December 14, 2015.
TOXIC SUBSTANCES CONTROL ACT

"A major Chemical Safety Bill Could Become Law by Early Next Year. Here’s What You Should Know." Washington Post, December 19, 2015.

The Senate has passed a much-anticipated bill proposing broad reforms to an existing chemical safety law — one which environmentalists have long argued puts the American public at unnecessary risk of exposure to toxic substances. The bill, dubbed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, has been in negotiations for more than two years and finally went to a vote Thursday night, where it passed with bipartisan support. It proposes a major overhaul of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate chemicals in the U.S. In recent years, however, environmentalists have called for major changes to the existing law, which they’ve argued does not give the EPA enough power when it comes to restricting toxic substances. "This law is about 40 years old, and it simply hasn’t kept up with the new science that is showing how chemicals can affect our health," said Richard Denison, lead senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. A major problem with the existing TSCA, according to Denison, is that it requires the EPA to demonstrate such a high burden of proof that a chemical is dangerous to human health as to make it nearly impossible to restrict a substance’s use. The "poster child" for this issue is the EPA’s failed attempts to ban asbestos — a substance known for its cancer-causing qualities — in the 1980s. As a result of restrictions in the current law, Denison said, the EPA has not been able to generate adequate information on many chemicals still commonly used in the U.S., and there are also many restrictions on the information it’s permitted to share with the public, so as not to divulge confidential trade information. "Most people assume that the chemicals in the products and materials they encounter every day have been thoroughly tested and shown to be safe," Denison said. "In fact, only a handful of chemicals have ever been reviewed for safety." The new bill would grant greater authority to the EPA to study the effects of chemicals and regulate their use and has received wide support from both Democrats and Republicans. The bipartisan support is a reflection of the amount of time senators have spent negotiating the bill, a process that has required "careful balancing of the interests on both sides in this debate," Denison said. While the bill grants much greater regulatory authority to the EPA, which supporters hope will lead to more uniform, national health-based standards, it also includes some protections for the industry from state regulations. The bill has also received support from members of the chemical industry. Cal Dooley, CEO of the American Chemistry Council — a trade association representing chemical manufacturers —calling the new bill "a watershed issued a statement Thursday moment in the history of U.S. environmental legislation." And the president of the National Association of Chemical Distributors, Eric Byer, also issued a statement Thursday saying, "Today’s vote puts us on the doorstep of finally reforming an outdated law in a way that will build confidence in the U.S. chemical regulatory system, protect human health and the environment from significant risks, and meet the commercial and competitive interests of the U.S. chemical industry and the national economy." As the bill has only passed in the Senate for now, it will need to be subjected to a vote in both chambers before being enacted into law. For its part, the House of Representatives passed a similar, although much more limited, bill earlier in 2015 proposing some smaller-scale reforms to the TSCA. "The House and Senate bills have to be reconciled in order to get a bill done and to the president and signed," Denison said. "We hope it ends up with the kind of comprehensive reform that the Senate bill outlines in order to really overhaul the law." Such negotiations between the House and the Senate could be complete, and a final bill sent to a vote, by early 2016. "For the first time ever, we have both parties in both houses of Congress recognizing the need for reform and committed to getting it done," Denison said. "Hopefully it will provide Americans the protection they need from exposure to toxic chemicals." view news article

BIOLOGICAL HAZARDS

"Even Though Snakebites Kill 200,000 Every Year, Research Loses Funding." Washington Post, December 14, 2015.

This used to be a trick science question, but it has been repeated enough that you may know the answer:

Q. What (non-human) animal is deadliest to human beings? A. The mosquito, because it spreads malaria, which kills about a million people a year.

So maybe you knew that. But probably not this: The second-deadliest animal is the snake. Every year snake venom kills 200,000 people, Jeremy Hsu writes in the December issue of Scientific American. Yet the development of antidotes to snake venom is "stuck in the 19th century," he says, largely because of lack of funding for research and testing. Major drug companies around the world have stopped producing snakebite antidotes because the drugs were not making enough money. Hsu doesn’t suggest why this would be so, though he does note that most snakebite deaths occur in Africa and Southeast Asia. The research is expensive, in part because antivenin must be tailored to an array of toxins across different regional snake species. No universal antidote exists. Doctors Without Borders now describes snakebites as "one of the world’s most neglected public health emergencies." Hsu describes some innovative ideas being worked on by small research groups around the world, including an anti v venin targeted at sub-Saharan Africa that could be cheaply modified to work on snakes from other regions. And some researchers are focusing on drugs that would stabilize people bitten in the field — since many snakebite deaths occur even when antivenin drugs are available, because the victim doesn’t have enough time to get to a hospital. But ideas alone aren’t enough, Hsu warns: "In the end, the best treatments in the world will fail without funding and distribution." view news article