Hearing entitled, "Current Science on Public Exposures to Toxic Chemicals"
EPW Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics & Environmental Health
February 4, 2010 - 10:00 a.m.
Thank you, Chairman Lautenberg, for holding this hearing on the state of the science of human exposures to chemicals. My understanding is that this is the first in a series of hearings leading up to a legislative debate on revision of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). I welcome the opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the law and the science surrounding it.
Today we will hear perspectives on scientific approaches for evaluating human exposures to chemicals. In particular, I am interested in the discussion related to biomonitoring - one of the scientific techniques used for assessing human exposures to natural and synthetic compounds in the environment.
I believe that biomonitoring can be a useful tool in assessing human chemical exposures. But, biomonitoring has its limits, as it provides only information on exposure; it does not provide dose information. Simply put, the presence of a substance in the body, at any level, cannot be interpreted to mean that adverse effects will occur.
I hope the witnesses here today remain objective in their discussions of biomonitoring, and avoid the temptation to rely on detection as a surrogate for risk. Misapplying biomonitoring data only serves to scare the public and, in some cases, advance political agendas. By invoking notions of "body burden" and "chemical trespass," people who do not understand the limitations of biomonitoring are encouraged to reduce exposures to some substances that may increase, rather than decrease, their overall health risks. A perfect example is mothers refraining from breast feeding in order to avoid feeding their babies chemicals found, or that may be found, in breast milk. In almost all circumstances, the benefits of breast feeding exponentially outweigh any possible risks from the mere presence of a chemical in the milk. This same advice is given to nursing mothers by public health authorities.
For over 30 years, TSCA has provided a scientifically sound framework for reporting, testing, tracking and restricting chemical substances and mixtures. As I have stated before, I am open to the idea of modernizing the statute. But, to the proponents of radical reform and supporters of the precautionary principle, let me be very clear: my principles for any regulatory or statutory changes to TSCA must be based on the best available science, including risk assessment; must include cost-benefit considerations; must protect proprietary information; and must prioritize reviews for existing chemicals. Further, I will not support changes that encourage litigation, allow for activist enforcement, or that compel product substitution.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses here today and to the upcoming debate on how best to modernize TSCA.