According to the EPA, of more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered by manufacturers in the US, testing has been done for just 200.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 to ensure that chemicals used in products are proven safe before they are released into the marketplace. He said the current law — the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 — is too lax, resulting in the banning of five chemicals in the past 34 years.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson called the issue one of her main priorities.
“Everything from our cars to the cell phones we all have in our pockets are made with chemicals,” Jackson said at the recent hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health. “A child born in America today will grow up exposed to more chemicals than any other generation in our history.”
“We’ve measured hundreds and hundreds of toxic chemicals in the blood of babies that are still in the womb,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. “Flame retardants, the chemicals in consumer products like personal care products, makeup, shampoos. It’s a very long list.”
The “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” requires safety testing of all industrial chemicals, and puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order stay on the market. Under current policy, the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. The proposed new legislation would give the EPA more power to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals and require manufacturers to submit information proving the safety of every chemical in production and any new chemical seeking to enter the market.
Highlights of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010
Provides EPA with sufficient information to judge a chemical’s safety.
Requires manufacturers to develop and submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, while also preventing duplicative or unnecessary testing. EPA will have full authority to request additional information needed to determine the safety of a chemical.
Prioritizes chemicals based on risk.
Calls on the EPA to categorize chemicals based on risk, and focus resources on evaluating those most likely to cause harm.
Ensures safety threshold is met for all chemicals on the market.
Places the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their chemicals. All uses must be identified and determined safe for the chemical to enter the market or continue to be used.
Takes fast action to address highest risk chemicals.
Requires EPA to take fast action to reduce risk from chemicals that have already been proven dangerous. In addition, the EPA Administrator is given authority to act quickly if any chemical poses an imminent hazard.
Creates open access to reliable chemical information.
Establishes a public database to catalog the information submitted by chemical manufacturers and the EPA’s safety determinations. The EPA will impose requirements to ensure the information collected is reliable.
Promotes innovation and development of green chemistry.
Establishes grant programs and research centers to foster the development of safe chemical alternatives, and brings some new chemicals onto the market using an expedited review process.
Most likely, the proposed legislation will be altered as it moves through Congress, and may even be blocked, given today’s polarized political environment. It should be noted that representatives of the chemical industry have also asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe.
The text of the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” can be found here (PDF document) and a full summary of the bill can be found here (PDF document).