Pediatricians Seek Stiffer Regulation of Chemicals

Pediatrician Group Says Current Legislation Does Not Adequately Protect Children, Pregnant Women

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on April 25, 2011

April 25, 2011 -- The U.S. chemical management policy known as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) does not adequately protect children and pregnant women from hazardous chemicals in the environment and needs to be overhauled, according to a new policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The group is concerned about the potential health risks associated with a laundry list of environmental pollutants, including heavy metals; phthalates found in toys, personal care products, nail polish, adhesives, and other products; the plastics chemical bisphenol A (BPA); perfluorinated compounds found in nonstick cookware; and flame retardants.

Passed in 1976, the TSCA requires companies that manufacture chemicals to notify the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of intent to market a new chemical. The chemical manufacturers are not required to perform any safety testing before notifying the EPA. As part of the overhaul, the AAP suggests that the EPA be able to demand safety data from companies and limit or stop the marketing of chemicals that may be harmful. The AAP also urges that any testing of chemicals include women and children to see if there are any effects on fertility and childhood growth and development.

TSCA Reform: Will It Pass?

This issue of TSCA reform seems to be reaching a critical mass. A growing number of studies have linked some of these chemicals to several diseases and conditions, and some groups, including the AAP, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Nurses Association, have endorsed a need to make changes to the TSCA.

“TSCA reform proposals have been introduced in Congress in each of the last three sessions, and the AAP has now joined several other health organizations as well as the American Chemistry Council in calling for comprehensive reform of TSCA,” policy author Jerome A. Paulsen, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., says in an email. “Hopefully our weight will push the process toward completion."

The new policy statement appears in the May issue of Pediatrics.

What the AAP Wants

“The U.S. needs a system that requires companies to screen chemicals for toxicity before they market those chemicals,” Paulsen says. “The companies must submit their data to EPA for analysis and for approval to market [and] this must be coupled with post-market surveillance to identify issues missed in the screen process and with the capability for EPA to remove chemicals from the market based on a reasonable level of concern of danger to human health.”

As it stands now, the TSCA does neither, he says.

Current and future parents do not have to wait for Congress to act, he says.

“There is sufficient information for parents to make decisions about certain chemicals like Bisphenol-A,” Paulsen says. Many manufacturers have already taken steps to eliminate the BPA found in baby bottles and cups because of health risks.

“Unfortunately, because of the inadequacy of the overall system, parents and others cannot assume that ‘because it is on the market it must have been approved by the government' and it must be safe,” he says. “Individuals need to become advocates for change and demand pre-market testing, post-market surveillance and a system managed by EPA to collect this data and make decisions about the safety of chemicals.”

Andy Igrejas, national campaign director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families in Washington, D.C, a coalition seeking to overhaul TSCA, says that the pediatricians are a little late to this game.

But Igrejas remains optimistic about the passage of TSCA reform on a national level. He says there is a “good chance” that there will be some movement on the legislation in the Senate before year’s end.

Not everyone agrees.

“The last thing we need to do in a slowly recovering economy is to give an already over-cautious EPA more regulatory powers to fix a problem that does not exist,” says Jeff Stier, the director of risk analysis at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

“Children are not falling ill from exposure to low levels of chemical,” he says. “Most measures of childhood health have improved dramatically at the very time new chemicals have been developed and used.”

TSCA Overhaul Long Overdue

Even some of those in favor of TSCA reform are not overly optimistic about TSCA reform.

The new statement is “very timely, but there is so much opposition to TSCA reform from a political standpoint,” says Sean Palfrey, MD, a professor of clinical pediatrics and public health at Boston University.

TSCA reform is “two-plus decades overdue,” he says.

Palfrey does not see the legislation passing anytime soon but hopes he is wrong.

“It is great that the Academy has put together this statement because it is right for children,” he says. “Europe, Canada, and other countries are far, far ahead of us in terms of making these regulations.”

Palfrey says that “parents need to understand that this country is putting out all sorts of compounds and chemicals into the environment and nobody knows if they are safe or not,” he says.

“We try to eat safely, cook safely, and live safely, but studies have shown that these chemicals are getting into our bodies as mothers, fathers, children, and fetuses and may be causing an increase in asthma, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other illnesses,” he says.

“Don’t tilt against windmills,” he says. “Vaccines have been studied extraordinarily carefully, and we are not paying attention to the many chemicals that are used commercially,” he says.

“Wash your food very carefully, buy products whose safety you do know and urge others who are influencing your air, water, and food to think about your children and work with state and federal representatives to make this a safer country than it is,” Palfrey says.

Industry Trade Group for Reform

“We agree that the Toxic Substances Control Act needs to be modernized to further ensure the safe use of chemicals and the innovation of new products,” says Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based American Chemistry Council.

“Beyond TSCA, the federal government and industry are working together to protect children’s health through programs like the High Production Volume (HPV) Challenge Program,” he says.

Under this program, manufacturers provide hazard information to the EPA, including information that is directly relevant for screening potential hazards to children’s health and development, he says.

“The ACC also strongly supports the National Children's Study, which promises to be the largest and most comprehensive study of children’s health and development ever planned in the United States,” he says. The study will follow a large sample of children from across the U.S. and examine the potential effects of a broad range of environmental influences including chemicals.

In sum, “ACC believes we must work together to shape a chemical safety framework that fosters innovation and economic growth, while continuing to assure protection of public health and the environment,” Jensen says.

Show Sources


Andy Igrejas, national campaign director, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, Washington, D.C.

Paulsen, J. Pediatrics, 2011; vol 127: pp 983-990.

Jerome A. Paulsen, MD, pediatrician, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, D.C.

Jeff Stier, director of risk analysis, National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, D.C.

Sean Palfrey, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics and public health, Boston University, Boston.

Scott Jensen, spokesman, American Chemistry Council, Washington, D.C.

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