New proposed legislation, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, introduced this week by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), has the potential to significantly change how the federal government protects the public from toxic chemicals.
“The Safe Chemicals Act will bring order to a chemical industry whose products have largely escaped regulation for the past three decades,” said Richard Wiles, senior vice president for policy and communications for the Environmental Working Group. “The current law is riddled with so many loopholes that in more than 30 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has been able to regulate only five of the 83,000 chemicals in use in consumer goods.”
The bill could affect many of the products consumers use in their homes, offices and schools including food and beverage packaging, electronics, furniture, toys, personal care and cleaning products. Any natural product that’s using industrial chemicals as ingredients would be impacted.
"We support any kind of legislation that's going to reduce the chemical burden that all of us live with on a daily basis," said Eileen Sheets, managing director for Bioforce USA which makes natural and low-chemical hair dyes and denture creams among other things. "Without seeing details of what this new legislation could cover it's hard to know if we'd be impacted. Our products are all good and clean but I don't know what might be questioned."
Representatives Waxman and Rush announced an aggressive schedule in the House of Representatives to complete committee action by mid-summer.
According to a release from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, proposed reforms include:
Requiring chemical companies to develop and make publicly available basic health and safety information for all chemicals.
Requiring chemicals to meet a safety standard that protects vulnerable sub-populations, including pregnant women and children.
A new program to identify communities that are “hot spots” for toxic chemicals and to take action to reduce exposures.
Expediting safety determinations and actions to restrict some of the most notorious chemicals, like formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, and flame retardants.
The new act would amend the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 which is widely acknowledged as ineffective, SCHF said. TSCA ‘grandfathered in’ 62,000 chemicals at the time it passed without requiring any testing or demonstration of safety.
“With virtually no rules governing the safety of chemicals, American babies are born pre-polluted, their bodies laced with as many as 300 industrial compounds, pollutants, plastics, pesticides and other substances that threaten public health,” Wiles said.
A toxic chemicals policy reform proposal known as the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act was proposed by Lautenberg, Waxman and other members of Congress in 2005 and in 2008, but these measures did not have the level of support as the current initiative.
“The Safe Chemicals Act goes a long way toward bringing chemical policy into the 21st century,” said Andy Igrejas, director of SCHF, in a teleconference Thursday. “We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen the bill to keep dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace.”