Last week the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 was introduced in the United States Congress by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). It would beef up federal government standards for toxic chemicals. This would be good for babies and adults alike because no one needs toxics in their bodies. But babies stand to benefit the most because their little growing bodies–in the womb and out–are most susceptible to chemicals that are linked to myriad illnesses and disorders later in life.
“America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken,” Senator Lautenberg said in his announcement. “Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe. My ‘Safe Chemicals Act’ will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to get tough on toxic chemicals.”
Basically, the Safe Chemicals Act would require testing of all industrial chemicals, meaning industry would have to prove that chemicals are safe enough to stay on the market. It’s reasonable for anyone in their right mind to wonder why such requirements haven’t already been in place.
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Here’s the New York Times’ description of the legislation:
The legislation would require manufacturers to provide a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, and EPA would have the authority to request any additional data it deems necessary to make a safety determination. At the same time, the bill seeks to avoid unnecessary or duplicative testing requirements.
EPA would also be required to prioritize chemicals based on that data set, looking at both exposure and hazard characteristics. The bill would instruct EPA to take quick action on those chemicals that clearly demonstrate high risk, and manufacturers would have to prove that a chemical is safe to keep it on the market.
EPA would be instructed to create a public database containing information about each chemical and EPA actions on that chemical, and the legislation would restrict which data can be claimed by industry to be confidential.
The bill also seeks to promote green chemistry by establishing a program to develop incentives for companies to make and use safer alternatives to some chemicals.
If you ask me, this overhaul is long overdue. One commentator at the 7GenBlog puts it in the context of the dismal failure of current legislation to adequately protect the public:
The Toxics Substance Control Act, which became law 34 years ago, was meant to give the Environmental Protection Agency the ability to identify and regulate dangerous chemicals in products that we use every day. However, of the more than 80,000 chemicals used in consumer products, the EPA has required testing of about only 200 and restricted the use of only 5 chemicals! The current law is widely regarded as being ineffective. This new legislation will go a long way towards bringing our failing chemical management system into the 21st Century. It puts our health first, provides better information to businesses, and helps the average consumer avoid toxic chemicals in the products that they buy.
If it moves forward this would be big.
I’m sounding like a brokenrecord here, but, I can’t help it. Moms—parents—everywhere should pay attention to this one, considering the litany of negative health effects—from behavioral and learning disorders to cancers and other severe physical ailments—that have been linked to chemicals in kids’ bodies. My constant refrain: Why should we put the interests of industry before those of our own kids?
Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, Campaign Director, Washington Toxics Coalition
The introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 is a moment we should celebrate – especially in Washington state. The state’s first-in-the-nation toxic flame retardant ban, the strongest national standards for chemicals in toys, and recently, a ban on bisphenol A (BPA) in children’s dishware, have helped create the momentum necessary to get Congress to act.However, the proposed federal law has several shortcomings that need to be fixed. For example, it would allow hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring them to be shown to be safe. It also makes it too hard to get chemicals we already know are harmful, like mercury or lead, off the market.We’ll also be watching to make sure the new law preserves the rights of states like Washington to have tougher standards on chemicals if states choose- especially if the shortcomings aren’t fixed in the final law. For more on what the Safe Chemicals Act means for parents, consumers, and the states, read our policy director’s take at http://watoxics.org/blog/the-safe-chemicals-act-states-still-in-the-lead
Making industrial chemicals safer is something we can all get behind. However, if we want safer chemicals and a safer environment then we must use nonanimal methods of testing.Currently, many toxicity tests are based on experiments in animals and use methods that were developed as long ago as the 1930’s; they and are slow, inaccurate, open to uncertainty and manipulation, and do not adequately protect human health. These tests take anywhere from months to years, and tens of thousands to millions of dollars to perform. More importantly, the current testing paradigm has a poor record in predicting effects in humans and an even poorer record in leading to actual regulation of dangerous chemicals.The blueprint for the development and implementation of nonanimal testing is the National Academy of Sciences report, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy in 2007.” This report calls for a shift away from the use of animals in toxicity testing. The report also concludes that human cell- and computer-based approaches are the best way to protect human health because they allow us to understand more quickly and accurately the varied effects that chemicals can have on different groups of people. They are also more affordable and more humane.These methods are ideal for assessing the real world scenarios such as mixtures of chemicals, which have proven problematic using animal-based test methods. And, they’re the only way we can assess all chemicals on the market.