Congressional reform of toxics law could save billions in health care costs

WASHINGTON – According to a new analysis released today, “The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act,” the U.S. has the opportunity to prevent rising rates of chronic disease and reduce health care costs by overhauling federal chemical policy. Evidence is strong and growing that chemical exposures contribute significantly to the rise in many chronic diseases, according to this new report synthesizing peer-reviewed science.

As the U.S. debates the costs of health care and its reform, “The Health Case” documents the enormous health care costs of treating cancer, learning and developmental disabilities, asthma and other diseases and conditions linked to chemical exposure, according to recent studies. By updating toxic chemical laws, the report found that Congress would reduce exposure to chemicals contributing to chronic diseases. Conservative estimates show that reducing the incidence of these diseases by 0.1 percent could save $5 billion in health care costs. This dollar figure is based on expected health care costs projected for 2020, and assumes full implementation of the new legislation by that year.

The primary federal law governing chemical safety is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which has never been significantly amended since its adoption in 1976. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has identified comprehensive reform of the toxics law as a key Obama Administration priority, stating that the law fails to provide EPA with the authority it needs to ensure chemicals are safe. Of the 80,000 chemicals used in the U.S., EPA has been able to require safety testing on only 200. And 60,000 chemicals – including bisphenol A – were grandfathered in for use without any testing for health safety. New legislation to bring the toxics law into the 21st century will be introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) in early 2010.

“The use of chemicals is pervasive in our modern society and, when properly tested and used, they improve the quality of life for families here and throughout the world,” said U. S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. “But just because chemicals have value, does not mean they are always beneficial to our health, particularly the health and maturation of young children and those whose health has already been compromised. As we work to reform TSCA, I will continue to vigorously prod industry to seek out and invest in the development of safer, more viable alternatives to hazardous chemicals and substances. I applaud the Campaign’s release of today’s report, which goes a long way toward shedding light on a constructive way to move forward.”

“Scientific evidence is piling up, revealing how chemicals are contributing to the alarming increases we are seeing in childhood leukemia, learning disabilities, reproductive disorders and other health problems,” says Charlotte Brody, RN, National Field Director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition and lead author of the report. “But meanwhile the federal law that is supposed to protect us has stayed frozen in time.”

The report summarizes a number of peer-reviewed studies that estimate the disease burden attributable to chemical exposure. These estimates vary widely, from five percent of childhood cancer to 30 percent of childhood asthma. Conservatively assuming that chemical policy reform were to reduce the contribution of toxic chemical exposures to chronic diseases by 0.1 percent, the resulting reduction in annual health care costs would amount to an estimated $5 billion. The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition has estimated health care cost savings on a state-by-state basis, using census figures projected for 2020.

“Failure of TSCA has direct implications for the health of America’s children. Infants and children are uniquely vulnerable to toxic industrial chemicals. Research from CDC documents show that several hundred industrial chemicals are in all of us. Some of these chemicals are known to cause asthma, cancer, learning disabilities and birth defects,” said Philip J. Landrigan, MD, Pediatrician and Director, Children’s Environmental Health Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “But for too many of the chemicals that are in us, no toxicity testing has ever been done. For too many of the industrial chemicals that are in us we have no idea of their potential toxicity to our children. This is very unwise and terribly short-sighted. Failure of TSCA is cause for great concern not only for the health of our children, but also for the future of our nation.”

During the last 30 years, tens of thousands of peer reviewed studies have built a large body of evidence demonstrating that chemical exposure can cause and contribute to some of our nation’s most serious health problems — from childhood cancer to infertility.

Leukemia and other childhood cancers have increased by more than 20 percent since 1975. A woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is now one in eight, up from one in ten in 1973. Infertility affected 40 percent more women in 2002 than in 1982. The once-rare birth defect of undescended testicles in baby boys increased 200 percent between 1970 and 1993. Since the early 1990s, reported cases of autism spectrum disorder have increased tenfold.

“People are already avoiding consumer products that contain toxic chemicals where they can, but because we lack fundamental information about the majority of chemicals, that isn’t enough,” said Gina Solomon, MD, Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Smarter regulation of these chemicals will reduce the incidence of disease and associated health care costs.”

“There is strong scientific evidence showing that environmental chemicals can adversely impact our health, particularly reproductive health,” said Tracey Woodruff, Ph.D. of the University of California, San Francisco. “Unfortunately, just because products are on our grocery shelves and in our stores does not mean they are safe. We need policies to ensure that when you buy something, you don’t need to worry that it can hurt you or your family.”

The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Family report concludes, “in simplest terms, real [TSCA] reform will lead to more healthy babies, fewer women with breast cancer, a return toward normal fertility patterns, and lower numbers of people with Alzheimer’s disease. This is the promise of TSCA reform.”