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The Health Case: Executive Summary

There is growing agreement across the political spectrum that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 does not adequately protect Americans from toxic chemicals. In the 34 years since TSCA was enacted, the EPA has been able to require testing on just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals produced and used in the U.S., and just five chemicals have been regulated under this law. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson has asked Congress to provide her agency with better chemical management tools for safeguarding our nation’s health.[1]

Much has changed since TSCA became law more than 30 years ago. Scientists have developed a more refined understanding of how some chemicals can cause and contribute to serious illness, including cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, neurologic diseases, and asthma.

The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition believes that, by reforming TSCA, we can reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals, improve our nation’s health, and lower the cost of health care. This report documents some of the scientific findings and economic analysis underlying our position.

Chronic disease is on the rise

More than 30 years of environmental health studies have led to a growing consensus that chemicals are playing a role in the incidence and prevalence of many diseases and disorders in our country, including:

  • Leukemia, brain cancer, and other childhood cancers, which have increased by more than 20% since 1975.[2]
  • Breast cancer, which went up by 40% between 1973 and 1998.[3] While breast cancer rates have declined since 2003, a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is now one in eight, up from one in ten in 1973.[4]
  • Asthma, which approximately doubled in prevalence between 1980 and 1995 and has stayed at the elevated rate.[5][6]
  • Difficulty in conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy affected 40% more women in 2002 than in 1982. The incidence of reported difficulty has almost doubled in younger women, ages 18–25.[7][8][9]
  • The birth defect resulting in undescended testes, which has increased 200% between 1970 and 1993.[10]
  • Autism, the diagnosis of which has increased more than 10 times in the last 15 years.[11]

The health and economic benefits of reforming TSCA

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 133 million people in the U.S.—almost half of all Americans—are now living with these and other chronic diseases and conditions, which now account for 70% of deaths and 75% of U.S. health care costs.[12]

Estimates of the proportion of the disease burden that can be attributed to chemicals vary widely, ranging from 1% of all disease[13] to 5% of childhood cancer[14] to 10% of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and neurodevelopmental deficits[15] to 30% of childhood asthma.[14] Whatever the actual contribution, effective chemical policy reform will incorporate the last 30 years of science to reduce the chemical exposures that contribute to the rising incidence of chronic disease. And any decline in the incidence of chronic diseases can also be expected to bring health care cost savings. Even if chemical policy reform leads to reductions in toxic chemical exposures that translate into just a tenth of one percent reduction of health care costs, it would save the U.S. health care system an estimated $5 billion every year.

The U.S. now spends over $7,000 per person per year directly on health care.[12] This sum does not include the many other kinds of costs, such as the costs of raising a child with a severe learning disability or coping with a young mother’s breast cancer diagnosis. Chemical policy reform holds the promise of reducing the economic, social and personal costs of chronic disease by creating a more healthy future for all Americans.

Download the full report

Citations

  1. U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, “EPA Administrator Jackson Unveils New Administration Framework for Chemical Management Reform in the United States,” http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/D07993FDCF801C-2285257640005D27A6 (accessed November 8, 2009)
  2. ^Tracey J. Woodruff, et al., America’s Children and the Environment, (Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2008)
  3. ^Holly L. Howe, et al., “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer (1973 through 1998), Featuring Cancers with Recent Increasing Trends,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 93, no. 11 (June 2001): 824–42
  4. ^Janet Gray, ed, State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment, (San Francisco: Breast Cancer Fund, 2008)
  5. ^Tracey J. Woodruff, et al., “Trends in Environmentally Related Childhood Illnesses,” Pediatrics, 113, no. 4 (April 2004): 1133– 1140
  6. ^Jeanne E. Moorman, et al., “National Surveillance for Asthma, United States 1980–2004,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5608a1.htm (November 1, 2009)
  7. ^Anjani Chandra and Elizabeth Hervey Stephen, “Impaired Fecundity in the United States: 1982–1995,” Family Planning Perspectives, 30, no 1, (1998): 34–42
  8. ^Anjani Chandra, et al., “Fertility, Family Planning and Reproductive Health of US Women: Data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth,” Vital and Health Statistics, 23, no. 25 (2005)
  9. ^Kate Brett, “Fecundity in 2002 National Survey of Family Growth Women 15–24 Years of Age”, Hyattsville, MD, National Center for Health Statistics (2008)
  10. ^Leonard J. Paulozzi, “International Trends in Rates of Hypospadias and Cryptorchidism,” Environmental Health Perspectives, 107, no. 4, (1999): 297–302
  11. ^National Institute of Mental Health, “NIMH’s Response to New Autism Prevalence Estimate,” http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/updates/2009/nimhs-response-tonew-autism-prevalence-estimate.shtml (November 4, 2009)
  12. ^ abNational Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, The Power of Prevention: Chronic Disease…the Public Health Challenge of the 21st Century, (Washington, DC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009)
  13. ^Commission of the European Communities, “Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council Concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restrictions of Chemicals (REACH), establishing European Chemicals Agency and Amending Directive 1999/45/EC and Regulation (EC) on Persistent Organic Pollutants: Extended Impact Assessment.” (October 29, 2003): 30
  14. ^ abPhilip J. Landrigan, et al., “Environmental Pollutants and Disease in American Children: Estimates of Morbidity, Mortality, and Costs for Lead Poisoning, Asthma, Cancer, and Developmental Disabilities,” Environmental Health Perspectives, 110, No. 7 (July 2002): 721–8
  15. ^Tom Muir and Mike Zegarac, “Societal Costs of Exposure to Toxic Substances: Economic and Health Costs of Four Case Studies That Are Candidates for Environmental Causation,” Environmental Health Perspectives Supplements, 109, No. S6 (December 2001): 885–903