Nation's toxic chemicals law fails to protect us
But with a bill passed by the House, chemical safety reform is closer than ever
Our government lacks the ability to regulate even known dangers such as lead, formaldehyde and asbestos.Richard Denison, Ph.D. EDF scientist, Senate hearing testimony
What’s at stake?
Our health. Certain chemicals used in everyday products are increasingly linked to cancer, infertility, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses. Thousands of others have never been reviewed for safety. The scale of this problem is unknown, because there is no inventory of chemicals in active use. Estimates range widely, from 7,700 to 85,000.
Why is this happening?
The current law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, is badly broken and hasn’t been updated since it passed in 1976. Federal oversight hasn’t kept pace with science or rapidly expanding production and use of chemicals. Companies don’t have to clear even a basic safety review before using a chemical in consumer products, and the EPA has little power to remove hazardous chemicals already in the marketplace.
But this may change soon?
Yes. In May 2016, the U.S. House passed bipartisan chemical safety legislation, the Lautenberg Act. “The Lautenberg Act fixes the biggest problems with our current law,” explains Denison, who has worked for TSCA reform for decades. The Senate must also vote on the bill, which is a reconcilation of versions that had separately passed the House and Senate. Upon passage, it will go to the President to be signed into law.
How will this bill make the current law safer?
This bill would give EPA the tools necessary to better ensure the safety of chemicals, significantly strengthening health protections for American families. Among other things, the bill would:
- require EPA to review the safety of all new and existing chemicals, with clear priority-setting and concrete deadlines for decisions and regulatory action,
- give EPA new power to require testing and limit companies’ ability to hide information about chemicals as “trade secrets,” and
- explicitly require protection of vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women.
“After nearly 40 years without a cop on the chemical beat, it will take time to fix this problem,” Denison says, “but the new law will set us firmly on that course.”
What other steps can make chemicals safer?
Businesses don’t have to wait for a new law to take effect — they can choose to remove dangerous chemicals from the marketplace. For example, EDF has partnered with Walmart to identify and remove the most hazardous chemicals from consumer products.
How can I help?
What drives the biggest change is a groundswell of public and consumer support to influence policy and industry leaders. By signing up for emails and action alerts, you join a powerful movement to demand safer chemicals.