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Frances Beinecke’s Blog

Testifying to Congress: It's Time to Keep Our Families Safe from Toxic Chemicals

Frances Beinecke

Posted February 3, 2011

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Earlier today I testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about why we must update a law that is supposed to protect Americans from toxic chemicals.

For decades, this law has failed to reduce our exposure to serious health hazards. Thanks to a groundswell of activity at the state level that has led to the adoption of numerous state-based protections, even the chemical industry—which has opposed reform for years, now recognizes that changes are necessary.

We must build on this potential mutual interest, because stronger protections are long overdue, and Americans are paying the price. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, has found flame retardants PBDEs—a group of suspected neurotoxicants—in the blood of over 95 percent of Americans that have been tested. These same chemicals are found in umbilical cord blood and breast milk. A recent UCSF study found 43 different chemicals in nearly every pregnant women tested—including flame retardants, plasticizers, phenols, perfluorinated chemicals and perchlorate—and we know this is only a fraction of the chemicals circulating in our bodies. (You can learn more about the study in this Q&A with one of NRDC’s senior scientists.)

Where has this tide of toxins come from? Paints, cleaning products, art supplies, furniture, carpets, building materials, electronics, and textiles. These are just some of the thousands of every day products that contain chemicals that have been linked to reproductive disorders, cancer, and developmental delays.  

We all want to protect our families from these dangers, but too often we are left to our own devices. When Congress passed the original Toxic Substances Control Act, it allowed 62,000 chemicals to continue to be used without requiring testing to determine whether they were safe for human health. Since then, the government has regulated just five of those original chemicals.

Meanwhile, for the 22,000 chemicals introduced since 1976, manufacturers have provided little or no information to the Environmental Protection Agency about potential health and environmental impacts.

So when we go to buy cleaning supplies or new kitchen cabinets, we have no way of knowing if these products include dangerous chemicals. This has to change. We need a stronger line of defense between toxic chemicals and our families.

Congress can help create that by updating the Toxic Substances and Control Act. This won’t be a simple task. A major mistake was made 35 years ago when all of those chemicals were grandfathered in under the law. Now we must remedy that by determining which chemicals are safe and under what conditions. And we must break free of the legal restrictions and red tape that have prevented the EPA from quickly reducing our exposure to the chemicals that have already been proven to cause us harm.

There is widespread support for making these improvements. In the last several years, 18 states have adopted measures to reduce toxic chemicals, nearly all with strong bipartisan support. More than 30 states will consider additional protections this year.

The fact that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is holding hearings on toxics reform so early in the 112th Congress raises the hope that federal lawmakers might also be ready to take action. Updating safeguards offers an opportunity for a divided Congress to come together in a constructive manner. Other public health laws, like the Food Quality and Protection Act in 1996, have gained traction in similar circumstances, and I believe that toxics reform could, and should, as well.

At today’s hearing, I told lawmakers that NRDC is ready to pursue this opportunity to work with all sides to try and get something done that would be good of all Americans. But I wasn’t  just speaking as the president of an environmental organization. I was also speaking as a breast cancer survivor and the mother of three daughters who—like so many other parents—believes it time America did a better job of keeping our families safe from toxic harm.


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Adam RollinsFeb 3 2011 04:01 PM

If these substances are considered nontoxic then let us flood the air and water and food of Congress, shut off their health care and see how well they survive. It is one sure way to limit their terms in congress. Can't run a country based on a corporations wants, needs, and desires based on greed.

Ans WeeversFeb 3 2011 04:28 PM

My dad was just diagnosed with livercancer. He worked with lead, solvents, chemicals.
I worked at the same printshop since I was 8 years, also lead, solvents, chemicals. I am diagnosed with CTE

Charli BFeb 3 2011 04:36 PM

Dr. Beinecke, thank you for your testimony today. When you mentioned the use of computational toxicological methods I thought you were right on. The potential for TSCA reform is quite exciting, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t sacrifice millions of animals (for toxicity testing) in the name of better protection for human health and the environment. The revised bill needs to mandate and create market incentives to use nonanimal methods and tests.

I agree that we should use the latest science to assess chemicals. Instead of poisoning animals and attempting to apply that data to humans — which hasn’t worked out so far — we need to make sure a reformed TSCA relies on modern human cell and computer-based methods that provide more accurate data on how a chemical acts on cells and what the impact on human health may be.

Becca SheetsFeb 4 2011 10:03 AM

My husband has Early onset Parkinson's Disease. We had noticed over the years that when the neighbors sprayed their fields on both sides of us his disease got much worse, So we approached the owners and asked for advance notice and asked them to please be more careful. Their response was to have the applicators deliberately do extra spraying along our fencelines. Our animals aborted their fetuses after being sprayed putting us out of business.The last time they did it there were 17mph winds directing it over our home. My husband froze outside and could not get out of the spraying. His medications stopped working, he lost his vocal abilities and started falling all of the time. He had to be hospitalized for a month because of what they did and Because we protested many years about this behavior by the applicators. My husband was charged as an eco terrorist. He basically crawled into the courtroom because he could not walk. The charges were dropped but not before the stress made him much worse. I suffer everytime they spray around here in that my gallbladder and liver flair up and I get real sick. In Minnesota the County Attornies are charged with upholding the laws and the Wadena County Attorney would not press charges when it was clear that the people respondsible should have been charged with attempted murder and chemical trespass charges. The laws in this country favor the chemical industry and and protect them no matter what.

Becca SheetsFeb 4 2011 10:07 AM

Over the years I have taken pictures and have a folder of the effects on the trees and plants of herbicide drift, would make a beautiful slide show. We lost almost $20,000 of purchased plants for our orchards and windbreaks. Not to mention the hours and dreams that were taken from us. The only way to recoup is to sue and then only the lawyers win. There is no replacing good health once it is stolen from you.

RozeFeb 5 2011 06:08 PM

I read an article called the story of Henrietta Lacks. All females should read it. Because we should not be an experiment to someone elses fortune or Wealth. We have to protect our Earth, Waters, and our food chain in Human Race.

Our marine waters contaminated and some families with deadly diseases and cannot afford to protect their families becase some greedy person out their damaging every life he can destroy.
A second article interesting to read is Oregon dead marine waters. Scientific Research.
WE need leaders with determine solutions. Not followers with no brain

Courtney WantinkFeb 7 2011 01:06 PM


Thank you for your blog, and for your call to action. I have read many articles about the awful affects of chemicals on our bodies, and everyone's comments seem to emphasize the reality of this even more.

It is important that we all realize just how big a problem this is- there is nowhere we can go to get away from all the chemicals! Lobbying Congress for our right to health is an inspiring goal, and so important to our future. It is, however, very long-term, and I for one don't want to wait until then to be toxin-free!

So recently, my coworkers and I have been thinking about this as well. In our daily eco-tips, at, we have spent alot of time offering suggestions for ways to escape from toxic chemicals. From personal care products to the ones we clean our homes with (the idea of oven cleaner is...horrifying), we strive to both educate and suggest alternatives to these toxic chemicals.

I hope you check out and are able to apply a few of our suggestions. Stay healthy!

Courtney Wantink

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