Most Americans believe that chemicals in products they buy in the store are approved for safety. But it’s not true. Our clothes, couches, and cleaning products – among thousands of other goods – contain chemicals linked to cancer, Parkinson’s and other serious health problems.
Recently, though, there’s been some very good news. Congress finally reformed the 40-year-old law at the root of our broken chemical safety system. And today, President Obama signed into law the most important new environmental legislation in decades.
Reforms will transform marketplace
The Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976 and never reformed until now, grandfathered nearly 62,000 chemicals without any safety review and passively allowed 700 to 1,000 new chemicals onto the market every year.
This law not only failed to protect Americans from toxic chemicals; it failed to provide the private sector incentives for investing in safer and sustainable alternatives.
The reforms passed by Congress will begin to transform the marketplace.
Under the Lautenberg Act, all new chemicals will have to meet a safety standard. The Environmental Protection Agency will have new authorities to require testing. And it will finally have a legal mandate to review existing chemicals on the market.
While these changes won’t transform consumer goods overnight, the new law will expand information about chemicals and improve transparency, generating more incentives for companies to invest in safer chemicals when designing products.
To see how much the reform of an environmental law can benefit us over time, look at the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. They remain vigorous today, cleaning the air and saving lives.
Citizen activism, retailers drove change
This reform is part of a process that began with citizen activism and greater consumer awareness. Americans have been demanding more information and higher standards for safety when it comes to chemicals they bring into their homes.
Growing scientific insights into how chemicals can disrupt normal development and result in chronic diseases are further raising the bar by which we judge their safety.
For many years, consumer product companies and major retailers have been responding to these rising consumer demands by removing hazardous ingredients and calling for safer alternatives.
More and more companies are applying the principles of sustainability to the chemicals that make up their products, striving for continuous improvement in health and environmental impacts.
Just this year, Walmart announced the first progress report on its Sustainable Chemistry Policy for household and personal care products announced in 2013. The company worked with suppliers to phase out high priority chemicals and reported a 95-percent reduction, by weight, in use.
Big job ahead: Getting all toxic chemicals off shelves
The new law puts in place a purely health-based standard by which chemicals will be judged.
As companies continue to work to meet rising consumer expectations about the safety, health and sustainability of products, this new law will provide a strong foundation to build upon and expand efforts for generations to come.
Moving potentially hazardous chemicals out of the products on store shelves and driving innovations in safer chemicals is a big task. It won’t happen overnight and we can’t expect the government alone to solve it.
Consumers, advocates, companies and retailers all have a significant role to play by demanding safer chemicals and products and striving for continuous improvement by going beyond simple compliance with the law.
The signing of the Lautenberg Act into law today ushers in a new legal framework upon which we can all build a healthier future for all.
I am so glad to hear that they are now doing something about our clothes, couches and cleaning goods just might be a little safer! But I would like them to go a little farther and do this for our foods. I am so tired of being violently ill from all foods that are not organic because of the chemicals and GMO'S. Keep up the good work.
The passage and signing of the Lautenburg Act is outstanding. Thank you for passing this Act for the health benefits and consumer awareness we all benefit from. So many different people worked and gave input to achieve this. At this time, for me, everyone working to bring this Act to fruition is what America is about.
I would like to know if this means there will be a change, especially an increase, in testing of chemicals using animals? I am 100% AGAINST animal testing of any kind.
I think that it is sad that this act is lauded as a victory when it is merely a guise of protection. The clause that preempts a state's right to ban a chemical allows the federal government to determine what chemicals U.S. citizens are exposed to. Thus, a state, or municipality for that matter, has no right to prevent harmful chemicals into their geography. This will allow corporations, such as fracking corps., to pollute with impunity!
Thanks for your comment, Cindy.
Actually, the final bill preserves a strong role for the states: All state restrictions currently on the books are grandfathered-in and, after enactment, states can act to restrict a chemical until and unless the EPA takes up that same chemical and addresses the same uses and risks.
State actions that do not restrict a chemical’s production or use, or actions they take to address a different problem, such as air or water quality or climate change, are not affected. You can read more about this particular provision in this document.
But clearly, preemption is a trade-off; on the other side of the ledger are strong, new EPA authorities, new mandates to improve oversight of new and existing chemicals, clear protections for the most vulnerable -- including children, pregnant women and workers -- and new standards of transparency. These improvements, and much more, are why the new law really is something to celebrate.
In reply to I think that it is sad that by Cindy Hoffer
This is wonderful news, and great progress toward a healthier nation. And a great tribute to Sen Lautenberg!
The things deemed toxic will most likely appear on the shelves in Third World countries...That's what happened to all the DDT pulled years ago!!! Another "duh."
It's about time! Thank you again President Obama and our environmentally friendly representatives.
This is excellent news. Thank you !
Now we need some labeling on our foods. This issue is causing digestive problems in many people. Many do not have cell phones, so no bar codes off cell phones please, but labels on the food products. Thank you!
Great news and I hope it is speedy!!
Maryle BarbeJune 22, 2016 at 4:45 pm