We are exposed to hundreds of chemicals every day in household items that you might not expect to be potentially harmful, including non-stick cookware, plastic bags and bottles, and cleaning products. Under regulations that currently exist, chemicals such as formaldehyde, flame retardants, lead and mercury do not have to be proven safe before they are used in products we are exposed to on a daily basis, but that may soon change.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 to update the Toxic Substances Control Act, (TSCA) which was last updated in 1976. This bill puts a mandate on companies to establish the safety of chemicals in products before they are available to consumers. Current law puts the burden on the Environmental Protection Agency to seek out and identify dangerous chemicals.
Toxic chemical exposure, even in small amounts, has been linked to cancer, fertility problems and learning disabilities, and the EPA has acknowledged shortcomings in their ability to identify dangerous chemicals and protect the public from exposure under existing law. “TSCA is showing its age, and its limitations. Our TSCA inventory currently lists over 84,000 chemicals, very few of which have actually been studied by the EPA for their risk to families and children,” says Steve Owens of the EPA.
Although there has been ongoing friction between safe chemical advocacy groups and big business, larger companies who would be greatly impacted by this legislation, including corporate giants SC Johnson and BASF, support one federal standard, for the sake of consumer confidence as well as global competitiveness. The lack of effective legislation at the federal level has caused states to create their own regulations, which forces national companies to comply with vastly different regulations from state to state. “Complying with as many as 50 different state chemical management policies will only create uncertainty in our markets and costly inefficiencies. If we have more confidence, it does help the bottom line for companies like ours,” says Kelly Semrau of SC Johnson.
The new bill calls for a prioritization of chemicals based on risk, creating open access to reliable chemical information and the promotion of safer, green chemistry. The EPA and other proponents of this legislation say that it is time to give the American people the protection from toxic chemicals they need and deserve.