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We're All Downstream

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Author: Seventh Generation

Here at Seventh Generation, our hearts go out to the people of West Virginia who have had their water source compromised and have been exposed to a potentially harmful chemical.

On Thursday January 9, as many as 5,000 gallons of an industrial chemical used to clean coal, “Crude MCHM,” seeped into West Virginia’s Elk River. The chemical originated from a ruptured storage unit on the riverbank just a few miles upstream from the intake source of the West Virginia Water Company, which provides water for over 300,000 people. Alerts were issued immediately upon the discovery of the leak and residents of the area were instructed to stop using their tap water.

As panic ensued, the most unsettling aspect of the entire situation became clear: the actual effects of the chemical were largely unknown. While thousands of West Virginia residents spend another day without safe water, the disturbing reality of the United States’ dangerous usage of toxic chemicals is setting in around the country: thousands of untested, potentially harmful chemicals remain in production in a wide range of commercial products. Under the country’s only major chemical safety legislation, the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976, MCHM and approximately 60,000 other chemicals were exempt from safety testing by the EPA because they had been in existence prior to the passage of the Act.

In West Virginia, vague warnings of irritated skin and headaches were released, yet little is known about potential long-term effects of MCHM. The only recorded test on the safety of the chemical had been administered in 1990 by the company that produced it, and the findings were not made available to the public.

The failure of the TSCA to test and eliminate potentially harmful chemicals has put the residents of West Virginia in unknown danger this week. On a larger scale, the ineffective laws affect the entire population of the United States by allowing thousands of potentially toxic chemicals to flood the market unregulated.

At the same time, the United States is facing a national health crisis, with incidences of cancer, genetic damage and developmental disabilities skyrocketing in the past 30 years. Countless studies have found connections between the increase of chemical exposure and dangerous health problems.

This recent crisis in West Virginia emphasizes the need to overhaul our chemical policy, and fortunately the gears are in motion. Some progress was made in 2013 with the introduction of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, but there is still much work to be done.

CSIA is an historic opportunity to reduce unsafe chemicals in our environment. It's not clear what the final form of the legislation will include or if it will even become law, but we believe that chemical reform legislation is crucial. Please join us in urging the Senate to strengthen and pass The Chemical Safety Improvement Act.

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