The American Association for Justice (AAJ) sent a letter last month to members of Congress outlining important legal principles that must be upheld in efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). In order to effectively protect public safety, those principles must be upheld. The letter details how the civil justice system and state laws complement federal regulation, ensure accountability and provide a safety net when federal regulation is insufficient. AAJ CEO Linda Lipsen, who does a tremendous job for the association, said:
We have seen time and again how dangerous chemicals in our drinking water, children’s toys and consumer products can disastrously impact the lives of American families. AAJ strongly supports efforts to reform TSCA, but in order for reform to effectively protect the American public, it is imperative that Americans’ access to state courts is protected.
The civil justice system provides an additional layer of accountability and safety for the American people. This is especially true when federal agencies are underfunded, have limited access to information or have insufficient resources to adequately enforce safety measures. When regulations fail and enforcement is unavailable, state-based tort law is the only remedy to ensure that companies and manufacturers can be held accountable for the harm they cause. Eliminating Americans’ rights under state law removes a key incentive for manufacturers to update their products to reduce health and safety risks. Linda said further in her letter:
Accountability achieved through our civil justice system is a vital component of the effort to protect the public from toxic chemicals and to shed a light on products harmful to human health. If no one is accountable, no one is safe. Any effort to reform TSCA must specifically preserve the ability of individuals to pursue their rights under state law.
There are a number of chemicals that are affected by TSCA reform. Those chemicals are set out below:
• Formaldehyde (a cancer-causing chemical present in temporary housing for Hurricane Katrina victims);
• Hexavalent chromium (cancer-causing chemical leaked into ground water);
• Asbestos (which kills as many as 10,000 Americans every year);
• Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are cancer-causing chemicals found to harm reproductive health, immune systems, and cause childhood diseases and is found in coolants and industrial equipment and has been found in food, surface soil, and drinking water);
• Lead (causes permanent brain damage in children and miscarriage with uses ranging from industrial facilities to paint and plumbing materials); and,
• Bisphenol A (BPA) is a substance which leeches from plastics and plastic coatings and causes heart disease, diabetes and abnormalities in brain and hormone development).
Hopefully, Congress will consider the consequences of failing to adequately regulate the chemicals industry. Lawyers at Beasley Allen know from experience how important strong – but fair – regulation is from a health and safety perspective. It’s also critically important to have an effective court system in place. When nobody is held accountable for their actions, nobody is safe.
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