This week, the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health convened for a field hearing in Newark, New Jersey. Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ), who chaired the hearing in his home state, took this opportunity to scrutinize the dangerous limitations within the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and most specifically how toxins are effecting our most valuable natural resource; our children.

In 1976, TSCA was enacted giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to oversee the safety new or previously existing chemicals. Today, nearly 84,000 chemicals are registered in the TSCA inventory for use within the United States, and currently only regulates five of these. Additionally,, because the language in the law designates that safety testing of chemicals can be done after evidence surfaces that it is dangerous; only a startling 200 of these chemicals have actually been tested for their impact on Americans, and fewer for their effects on children. Senator Lautenberg has legislation currently pending in the Senate, “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010”, that would amend TSCA to provide the EPA with greater ability to regulate chemicals, as well as requiring manufacturers to prove the safety of the chemicals used in production and goods on the market.

There were five witnesses present at Tuesday’s hearing, perhaps the two most recognizable being EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent and Neurologist Dr. Sanjay Gupta. As Administrator Jackson testified in front of the subcommittee, her words were sobering, “Everything from our cars to the cell phones we all have in our pockets are made with chemicals. A child born in America today will grow up exposed to more chemicals than any other generation in our history.” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Dr. Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health took this point one step further in their testimonies. In recalling the findings of EWG’s study of toxins and pregnancy, Cook noted that hundreds of toxic chemicals have been found in the blood of babies in the womb— anything from flame retardants to makeup and shampoos. Dr. Perera additionally noted that Columbia’s study, which focused on the connection between toxins in umbilical cord blood and later problems in the child’s development or intelligence, found that higher the concentration of toxins in the blood the lower the IQ was of the child. However, it was perhaps Dr. Gupta who explained this both vividly and succinctly: “Babies in this country are born pre-polluted.”

The information in this hearing should not just serve as a wake-up call for parents and expecting parents, but for the entire nation. It is unclear as to when Senator Launtenberg’s bill will be taken up by the Senate, but it is in all of our best interests that the bill is considered as soon as possible.

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