When I was a kid growing up on Long Island, we used to run through the mist behind a man in his little truck, spraying DDT all over our lawns and trees. Given all we know now, it’s hard to believe that we were allowed to do that. Though the fog of toxic chemicals that surround us today may be less visible, chemical exposures continue to threaten the health of our kids and grandkids, and will until we fix America’s broken chemical safety law.
My late husband Frank Lautenberg’s greatest passion during his service in the U.S. Senate was protecting the health and wellbeing of America’s children. Whether it was second-hand smoke or toxic chemicals, he fought to defend our most vulnerable citizens.
Frank’s last battle in the Senate was a decade-long effort to pass legislation to fix the outmoded Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). It was a very personal fight for both of us, as parents and grandparents. We knew that no family could be protected unless the government had the legal authority and resources it needed. Thankfully, we are now closer than ever to achieving the kind of commonsense reform that Frank tried to accomplish throughout his career, right up to the last days of his life.
I know Frank would have been proud last week as I stood with a bipartisan group of his former colleagues – including some of the leading environmental champions in the Senate – to announce a deal to finally fix our broken system. And I am proud that this landmark bill, the most important environmental legislation in a generation, has been named in Frank’s honor: The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.
As a Senator, passing legislation to ensure chemical safety meant everything to Frank. He told me it was even more critical to protecting public health than his signature accomplishment, banning smoking on airplanes. He was troubled by the fact that, under TSCA, tens of thousands of chemicals are allowed to stay on the market despite no evidence that they are safe.
What’s more, the current system allows hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market every year and be used in our homes, offices, and workplaces every day – without any requirement that they first be found safe. The tragic result of this lax system is that dangerous or untested chemicals can be found everywhere from our cleaning products to our couches and clothes.
After Frank passed away, Senator Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE stepped up to carry Frank’s legacy forward. Senator Udall is every bit the dedicated environmentalist that Frank was, and he took up the issue with the same zeal. I’m so grateful for Tom’s work, and for the support of progressive leaders, including Cory Booker, Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats draw red lines in spending fight What Republicans should demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling Climate hawks pressure Biden to replace Fed chair MORE, Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal Six Democrats blast Energy Department's uranium reserve pitch Facebook draws lawmaker scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens MORE and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats revive filibuster fight over voting rights bill Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise MORE. They’ve worked closely with David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE and Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal Austin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal The Pentagon budget is already out of control: Some in Congress want to make it worse MORE, who have shown how the Senate is at its best when people with very real differences come together to find common ground. To me, it is like part of Frank is still there in the United States Senate, working to enact this bill into law.
Frank always had high regard for Frank Pallone, who took the helm for the Democrats on the House side. He was able to work with John Shimkus to navigate complicated political terrain and pass a bill with overwhelming support.
The Environmental Protection Agency, the White House, and leading environmental groups like Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation have called the bill a significant improvement over the current system.
The Lautenberg Act is not only about Frank’s legacy. It’s about all our children and grandchildren across the country—exposed to the invisible fog of untested and unregulated chemicals. It is time for Congress to take action. It’s what the American people deserve – and what Frank fought so hard to achieve.
Lautenberg is the widow of Late Sen. Frank Lautenberg