Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
It's been more than two years since a massive chemical spill in West Virginia left regulators puzzled over basic questions like, how toxic is this chemical? Does it pose a threat to pregnant women and children? How long will this chemical stay in the environment, or in people's bodies?
The reason we couldn't answer those questions was simple.
Chemicals that were invented or discovered before 1976 -- thousands and thousands of chemicals that were developed in the early 20th century -- were simply "grandfathered in" to the Toxic Substances Control Act (ToSCA) of 1976 and presumed safe until proven dangerous.
There was a massive public outcry in response to the Elk River chemical spill, and Congress quickly took up action to reform and strengthen the ToSCA.
So, more than two years later, how's that new legislation coming along?
If you happen to be on the board of a multibillion dollar agrichemical giant called Monsanto, it's going great!
Not so much though, if you happen to be a private citizen who actually wants accountability when corporations poison communities or expose them to cancer-causing chemicals.
Right in the middle of the sweeping new chemical safety bill that Congress is working out, Republicans in the House of Representatives have added one paragraph that would save Monsanto, and only Monsanto, hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.
The clause relates to "PCBs," which are non-flammable Monsanto-produced chemicals that were used extensively in electronics, caulk, paints, pesticides and thermal insulation in buildings for most of the 20th century.
Starting in the 1930s, Monsanto manufactured nearly all of the 1.25 billion pounds of PCBs that were produced and sold in the United States.
In 1977, Monsanto stopped producing PCBs because of health concerns, and the EPA banned the chemical with few exceptions in 1979.
PCBs don't break down easily though: They stay in the environment and in sewage systems, they accumulate in the fat tissues in animals and humans, and they cause health problems like cancer.
Just last year, cities and school systems tried to sue Monsanto for hundreds of millions of dollars to get them to pay part of the cost to reduce PCB levels in sewer discharge and in construction caulk to meet federal and state regulations.
At the same time, another group of individuals with non-Hodgkins lymphoma related to PCB exposure sued Monsanto for damages.
If the House version of the new chemical safety bill passes into law though, those cities and schools will be stuck with the bill to clean up Monsanto's cancer-causing chemical, and individuals will be stuck with the bill to treat the cancers that the chemical caused.