Quarles Testifies on the Need for Toxic Substances Act

[EPA press release - July 10, 1975]

Legislation to prevent the proliferation of dangerous chemicals throughout the environment is "one of our most urgently needed environmental laws," John R. Quarles, Deputy Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, said today.

Testifying before the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Finance, which is currently considering legislation to control toxic substances, Quarles cited vinyl chloride as one chemical that should not have been allowed to enter the environment without proper testing for human health and environmental effects. Vinyl chloride, which is used extensively in the plastics industry, has been found to cause a rare form of liver cancer (angiosarcoma) in humans and has already caused the deaths of at least 15 Americans.

In addition to vinyl chloride, Quarles cited fluorocarbons (Freons), bischloromethylether (BCME), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as chemicals now present in the environment that "point to the inadequacy of our present approach to controlling toxic substances."

"Existing Federal laws fail to deal evenly and comprehensively with toxic substances problems," Quarles said.

"While some authority exists to control the production of certain categories of toxic substances, such as pesticides, drugs, and food additives, most existing Federal authorities are designed to prevent harmful exposure only after the substances have been introduced into production.

"The Clean Air Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act," Quarles said, "deal with toxic substances at the point at which they become emissions or effluents. Even the recently enacted Safe Drinking Water Act, while providing long-needed protection against contaminants in drinking water, deals with the problem at a point where the contaminants are very difficult to control."

Only by requiring premarketing notification for all chemicals and testing for selected chemicals would EPA be able to assess adequately the risks that new chemicals pose to human health and the environment, Quarles said.

About 600 new chemical compounds are introduced in the United States annually for commercial use.

Countering predictions that premarket notification and testing requirements in the proposed legislation wold pose undue costs to industry, Quarles said that "a comprehensive premarket notification approach should be economically preferable to industry. By examining the potential dangers associated with the production and use of a product before investing considerable capital," Quarles said, "the chemical industry can avoid the serious disruption and losses attendant to remedial action after the fact."

Fluorocarbons are an example of chemicals once considered safe for widespread use which may now pose a threat to health and the environment, Quarles said. "The scientific community has become increasingly concerned about fluorocarbons in the stratosphere, where their photo-disintegration has been alleged to result in a depletion of the ozone layer which protects the earth from excessive amounts of ultraviolet radiation," Quarles said.

Quarles said that "while it is highly speculative that scientists could have predicted the problem of fluorocarbons in the stratosphere when they were first marketed for refrigerants or aerosols, the magnitude of their potential harm may warrant regulatory control."

Quarles said that the discovery that long-term occupational exposure to vinyl chloride causes a rarer liver cancer illustrates the need to evaluate new chemicals carefully before they are produced in billions of pounds.

Quarles testified that the benefits of toxic substance legislation would greatly outweigh the costs. Answering charges that the cost to industry of premarket notification and testing would prove to be excessive, Quarles said that "when placed in perspective with the sales and profits of the chemical industry, these costs are relatively modest."

Quarles said that a preliminary EPA estimate of the costs to industry associated with implementation of proposed legislation would be on the order of $80 to $140 million annually. "In 1974, the sector of the industry most directly affected by the legislation (chemical and allied products less food additives, cosmetics, drugs, and pesticides) had sales of about $72 billion, profits after taxes exceeding $5.5 billion, and research and development expenditures of about $2 billion," Quarles said.