Health Care Must Work to Pass Safe Chemicals Act

By Gary Cohen

Last week the Safe Chemicals Act – a landmark bill to identify and eliminate the worst toxic chemicals - passed out of a Senate Committee. It was the first movement to update our nation’s chemical policy in almost four decades. This is especially important in that it sets the stage for a much larger and potentially more public struggle for our politicians’ allegiances in this election year. 

On one side of the fight is the old guard of the chemical lobby. Well funded and most visibly represented by the American Chemistry Council, they have worked almost nonstop to keep the Safe Chemicals Act from seeing the light of day. In the process they’ve squandered an opportunity to staunch the flow of thousands of untested and unregulated chemicals into commerce, our homes and our bodies. We know these companies well; their cigarette-science rhetoric and open checkbook have kept good policy at bay for years while cancer, learning disabilities and infertility rates have risen, and obesity has reached epidemic proportions. 

On display on the same day of the Committee vote was a peek at the other side of the equation: health care professionals invested in sustainability. On July 25, the White House CEQ hosted “Greening America’s Hospitals” which included leading clinicians, innovative supply-chain companies, visionary hospital CEO’s and a host of others who are committed to protecting America’s health and supporting a healthy environment. But they also represent billions in purchasing power that can drive innovative businesses and a new safe and sustainable economy. Leaders in the healthcare sector understand that passage of the Safer Chemicals Act will eventually mean less chronic disease in our communities and lower healthcare costs.

We thank Sen. Frank Lautenberg for introducing the Safer Chemicals Act and his tireless efforts to support it. Our thanks also go to Committee Chair Barbara Boxer and to the eight other Senators who voted to pass it. Our efforts now should be focused on getting this bill passed through the entire Senate. Health Care Without Harm will be very active in this effort. We encourage all health care professionals to be ready to provide letters, calls, and other responses if they are called on to support this bill. We expect stiff opposition from the chemical industry, but that should not stop our efforts to stop the toxic stream of chemicals that has been washing over us for the past 36 years.

Gary Cohen is the President and Founder of Health Care Without Harm.