Markey’s Pointed Letter Has a Colleague in a Lather
Rep. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) efforts to curb use of a chemical from hand soaps has worked one of his colleagues into a lather over the use of committee letterhead.
Markey, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, issued a dozen nearly identical letters in April urging companies to abandon the use of the chemical triclosan — an antibacterial agent used in hand soap as well as knives, socks and classroom furniture — asserting the substance could have “adverse health affects.”
According to copies of the letters that Markey published on his website, the Massachusetts lawmaker targeted not only the chemical, but also a compound produced by a North Carolina-based company, which sometimes contains triclosan.
“I am writing to you because your company makes products which contain Microban, a trademarked chemical formulation that sometimes uses the antimicrobial chemical triclosan,” Markey wrote to five companies.
“I request that you halt further use of this chemical in any consumer soaps, products intended to come into contact with food and products marketed specifically to children, in light of the serious concerns that have been raised about the use of this chemical in products that come into contact with food, products that are marketed to children and in everyday consumer soaps in which it is no more effective than soap and water.”
That drew the attention of Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C), who also sits on the Energy and Commerce panel, and whose district is home to Microban, the company whose product is named.
In an interview last week, Myrick derided Markey’s use of the committee’s letterhead, characterizing his efforts to ban the substance as a personal campaign.
“Generally if you have something you personally feel strongly about, you send it on your letterhead,” she said.
In an April 16 letter to Markey, Myrick sought to rebut statements about Microban, as well as triclosan, also questioning Markey’s efforts to organize a voluntary boycott of the chemical.
“Despite the fact that both the EPA and the FDA regulate and review products containing triclosan, you took the liberty of instructing major customers of antimicrobial companies to discontinue their affiliation with companies that have anything whatsoever to do with this chemical component,” Myrick wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to Roll Call.
The North Carolina lawmaker referred to communications between Markey and both the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, which Markey released in early April.
Neither the FDA nor the EPA have called for immediate bans on the chemical, although the FDA acknowledged “valid concerns about the effects of repetitive daily human exposure to these antiseptic ingredients.”
The FDA’s website states the agency will publish a review in 2011, while the EPA’s website states it will began a “comprehensive review of triclosan” in 2013.
In an April 22 letter to Myrick, Markey defended his call for a ban on triclosan, as well as his decision to name Microban.
“My letters … in no way implied or intended to imply either that all Microban contains triclosan, or that all products that contain Microban may pose a health concern. Indeed, my letters mentioned Microban specifically only because I wished to make it clear that my request only applied to formulations of Microban which actually contained the chemical triclosan — and not to those which did not include this chemical,” he said.
Markey’s chief of staff, Jeff Duncan, also defended the Massachusetts lawmaker’s decision to call for the boycott on committee letterhead, asserting the action is commonplace.
“The facts are that Members on both sides of the aisle routinely send letters to companies expressing views that may raise issues for the Members,” Duncan said.
Markey aides cited a series of letters the lawmaker issued in 2007, seeking to curb advertising for “unhealthy foods” aimed at children.
Copies of those letters on Markey’s website appear on letterhead that states only “Congress of the United States,” although the lawmaker signed them as the then-chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.
A spokeswoman for the Energy and Commerce Committee did not return a telephone call seeking information about the use of committee letterhead.
Markey aides also noted that the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing in February that included discussion of triclosan and other chemicals in drinking water that could affect the human endocrine system, which regulates hormones.
The April 13 letters ask each of the companies to inform Markey by May 7 whether they will discontinue use of triclosan.
His office could not provide immediate statistics on how many of the companies had responded, nor what steps the subcommittee would take next, such as releasing the results of the campaign.