Safe Chemicals Act Introduced, Would Require Independent Testing

The Safe Chemicals Act was introduced into the Senate last week. The act, an update to the Toxic Substances Control Act to include industrial chemicals.

These chemicals can be found in anything from plastic to shampoo. The act was reintroduced by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), along with 25 co-sponsors.

The bill would put limits on trade secret practices and require the industry to reduce use of the chemicals designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as being of “greatest concern.” The bill has strong support from environmentalists, but has strong opposition from the chemical industry.

There are no laws in the United States that require independent testing before a new industrial chemical is introduced in the market. But the Safe Chemicals Act would essentially change the “safe until proven dangerous” stance on industrial chemicals. The change has already been made in pharmaceutical and pesticide companies.

The EPA has so far mandated safety testing for only a handful of the more than 85,000 industrial chemicals on the market today. Once these chemicals are in use, it is also impossible for the agency to mandate testing, unless they are shown to cause safety problems. So far, the EPA has only successfully restricted five substances: polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin, hexavalent chromium, asbestos and chlorofluorocarbons.

But some scientists have suggested that harmful chemicals exist in nearly everything the average consumer uses. So much so that they allege babies are born “pre-polluted” by these chemicals. They sometimes have hundreds of synthetic chemicals already showing in their blood.

Recent testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown that more than 212 industrial chemicals are in Americans’ bodies, including at least six known carcinogens (chemicals that cause cancer). Dozens of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and other harmful diseases.

The industrial chemicals are found in things like cleaners, detergents, shampoo, soap, lotion, furniture, food packaging, electronics, cookware, and children’s products. But the senators allege that the Safe Chemicals Act would allow the EPA to secure health and safety information for new chemicals, as well as those currently on the market.

It would also screen chemicals for safety and provide risk factors that allow the EPA to work through the ones that could cause the most harm first. It would then require risk management for chemicals that cannot be proven safe for consumers. Risk management could include things like labeling, disposal requirements, restricted uses, and even a full ban of the toxic chemical.

Calvin Dooley, the president of the American Chemistry Council, believes that more regulation is not necessary. Dooley stated in a testimony about the Safe Chemicals Act that the “EPA should take advantage of the massive amounts of data and information that the agency already has access to.”

Dooley also stated that the bill would risk raising costs, putting a halt to innovation, and put American companies at a disadvantage. While the federal requirements for industrial chemicals have not been changed in about 40 years, more than 20 states have created their own toxic-substances programs to help them police chemical safety.

Do you think the legislature should pass the Safe Chemicals Act, or is Dooley right that more regulation is not needed for industrial chemicals?

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