By Kelly Pate Dwyer
Several members of Congress have introduced a bill that would require manufacturers prove that chemicals used in their products are safe before those products go to market.
The Kid Safe Chemicals Act, introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., May 20, and co-sponsored by Representatives Hilda L. Solis, D- Calif., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., would overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which presumes tens of thousands of chemicals in consumer products are safe.
The new bill puts the burden of proof on industry to show "credible evidence" of a chemical's safety. The Environmental Protection Agency would review whether manufacturers sufficiently meet that burden.
"The American public expects the federal government to keep families safe by testing chemicals—but the government is letting them down," Sen. Lautenberg said. "We already have strong regulations for pesticides and pharmaceuticals—it's common sense that we do the same for chemicals that end up in household items such as bottles and toys."
The law would apply to chemicals produced for a commercial purpose, other than pesticides and drugs, which are regulated under other laws.
Dozens of health and environmental groups have voiced support for the proposal.
"Under TSCA, 60,000 chemicals got grandfathered in, chemicals [that were] assumed to be safe and never tested," says Anila Jacob, M.D. and senior scientist with Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.
Kid Safe would apply to all consumer products, not just those intended for kids.
The bill also offers funding and incentives to develop safer alternatives to toxic chemicals currently in products.
Officials with the American Chemistry Council stated in a release that ACC supports much of what's proposed under the Kid Safe Chemicals Act, "including enhancing the protection of children's health, managing potential risks of chemicals in commerce, using a prioritized and tiered testing approach, and rewarding business innovations."
However, ACC says industry is currently working with EPA on some of these issues, and that it opposes some aspects of the bill, specifically that a chemical could be "restricted regardless of use or potential exposure."
"Manufacturers go to great lengths to assure their products are safe for their intended use—safe for children, safe for adults, safe for consumers, communities, the environment and safe for workers engaged in manufacturing," says the ACC's statement.
The bill comes after a swell of media coverage around a handful of commonly used and potentially harmful health effects, from lead in toys to bisphenol-A in some baby bottles and canned foods, and phthalates in everything from PVC cable and perfume to kids' bath toys.
The European Union and Canada have changed laws or introduced bans on certain chemicals still used in the United States.
The proposed Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act, which recently passed the Senate, would increase the agency's staff size, require third-party safety testing for products under CPSC jurisdiction—including toys—and require such products meet new safety standards.
A handful of states have introduced bills that would restrict or ban use of certain chemicals in kids' products.