Health and safety advocates will be watching U.S. Congressman Gene Green closely tomorrow, when his colleagues on the House Energy & Commerce committee are expected to introduce a bill intended to reduce the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products, such as clothes and children's bath toys.
Green represents folks living in the area along the Houston Ship Channel and east toward Baytown, where hordes of chemical manufacturing plants call home. His district also reportedly has the
lowest highest percentage of people without healthcare coverage in the country.
Green's office has not yet responded to Hair Balls' questions on where the Democrat stands on the new bill, which will be introduced by fellow Democrats Bobby Rush of Illinois and Henry Waxman of California. And so far, no one seems to know for what Green will say or do.
"I don't know where he'll come out on this," says Matthew Tejada, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, which led the Texas campaign to reform the toxic chemical law. "I was in D.C. less than six weeks ago and while I didn't meet with Representative Green, the Capitol was crawling with chemical industry folks, all in their hard hats with "Dow" and "Dupont" written on them."
The new bill, titled the "Toxic Chemicals Safety Act," would be the first update and upgrade to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
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According to the national organization Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of parents and public health organizations, the EPA only requires testing of 200 of the 62,000 chemicals that were being used to make consumer products back in the 1970s, and has only regulated five. Tejada has said that the health effects of most of the chemicals currently used to make consumer products are unknown, and that companies are not required to even report which chemicals they are using to manufacture products.
Toxic chemicals in products have been associated with cancer, learning disabilities and reproductive problems, according to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. The people who suffer the most usually live in low-income, minority communities located next to industrial plants, which pretty much sums up a good portion of Green's district.
Tejada says Green does deserve some kudos for supporting the Chemical Transportation Safety bill, but that this new one will be a better test of where Green stands.
"From a health standpoint," he says, "the Chemical Transportation Safety bill will help secure stuff from tragedies or severe accidents, and the kind of stuff that happens really rarely. The TSCA stuff will have an everyday beneficial impact for every single American. So it's going to be very interesting where the Congressman comes down on this, because it's not something that the industry in his district can't get over. At the end of the day, this is giving them the modern regulatory clarity which industry always says that it wants. This is not something that somebody should vote against, but we'll see which way he goes."