URI oceanographer testifies before Congress to improve regulation of chemical pollutants

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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – July 24, 2013 – University of Rhode Island oceanographer Rainer Lohmann testified before a Congressional committee last week at a hearing about the regulation of industrial chemicals.

Lohman, a professor at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, spoke about the shortcomings of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the 37-year-old legislation that he claims does little to protect citizens from most of the toxic chemicals released into the environment.

“Within TSCA, chemicals are all considered innocent until proven guilty,” he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “While this approach is appropriate for U.S. citizens accused of a crime, from my perspective, it is a dangerous approach to use with chemicals in commerce… The current platform from which TSCA operates holds the American public hostage to the chemical manufacturers.”

According to Lohmann, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was started and the first legislation was passed to regulate chemicals in the environment, about 50,000 compounds that were in use at that time were grandfathered. Because of what he said is the poor track record the U.S. has for regulating chemical compounds, he believes all compounds that are on the market today should be rescreened.

Lohmann’s research focuses on organic pollutants that are worrisome because of their persistence in the environment, their ability to travel long distances, their strong bioaccumulation affecting top predators, and their adverse effects in organisms.

“Efforts to fully understand the magnitude of persistent chemicals in the environment are hampered by the lack of basic information about the chemicals’ identity, properties, toxicology and production volume,” he told the Committee. “If TSCA was meant to protect the American public and the environment from toxic chemicals, it has failed spectacularly.”

Lohmann was one of only five people from industry and academia invited to testify at the hearing.

“I felt honored to be invited, but I can’t pretend I wasn’t nervous,” he admitted later. “I had rehearsed my testimony several times, but it was still an unsettling experience.”

The URI professor said that the committee gave no indication of how they were going to proceed with proposed legislation to update the Toxic Substances Control Act, but he hopes that bold steps will be taken to protect people and the environment.

“We have the most ineffective chemical control act anywhere on Earth,” Lohmann said. “It’s very frustrating that things are moving so slowly to fix it.”