Nation's toxic chemicals law fails to protect us

But with a bill now passed by the Senate, chemical safety reform is closer than ever

[infographic] 1 out of 3 formulated products sold by major retailers contain chemicals known to pose health risks.

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 December 2015, the U.S. Senate passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. This bill is a “solid bipartisan compromise that fixes the biggest problems with our current law,” explains Denison, who has worked for TSCA reform for decades. Because the House passed its own bill earlier in 2015, the two houses of Congress must create a single bill that will go to the President for signing.

How will this bill make the current law safer?
If the reforms laid out in the Lautenberg Act remain intact as Congress conferences on the bill, it will give EPA the tools necessary to better ensure the safety of chemicals and significantly strengthen 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 else is EDF doing to make chemicals safer?
We’re also working in other ways to clean up chemicals in the marketplace, including partnering with Walmart to identify and remove the most hazardous chemicals from consumer products.

How can I help?

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