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EPA Calls for Chemical Law Reform

From household cleaners to personal care products to building materials, new principles to ensure the safety of chemicals are being pushed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama Administration.

The EPA recently announced plans to reform the nation’s chemical management law by calling for more information from manufacturers.

Under the reform, the EPA and the Obama Administration outlined goals they want Congress to consider for improving the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. By supporting green chemistry and directing money to the EPA to address “priority” chemicals, as well as requiring manufacturers to provide better information about hazards in connection to chemical use, the EPA plans to expedite the agency’s efforts to test chemicals that pose a risk to the public.

It’s not a moment too soon, say some environmentalists. More than 80,000 chemicals have been allowed into commerce with little or no safety tests, said Alex Formuzis, director of communications for Environmental Working Group.

“In the 33 years since President Ford signed the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA has banned or restricted only five chemicals,” he said. “The federal law is so weak when EPA applied it in its efforts to ban asbestos – the deadly carcinogen responsible for striking down roughly 10,000 Americans every year – the Supreme Court rejected the case.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., agrees. He has called the announcement a breakthrough for public health. He said, in a statement, that “America’s system for regulating toxic chemicals is broken. Far too little is known about the hundreds of chemicals that end up in our bodies and EPA has far too little authority to determine their safety.”

Lautenberg is introducing legislation to turn the new principles into law. The EPA’s plan calls for review of the following:

• Manufacturers will provide information on new and existing chemicals that proves they are safe. The EPA will have the authority to require additional testing if the data is insufficient.
• Chemicals will be reviewed against science-based safety standards that lean on the side of public health and the environment.
• “Green chemistry,” the research, design and process of creating safer and more sustainable chemicals, will be encouraged.
• Transparency and public access to information will be enhanced.
• Funding (currently an undetermined amount) will be allocated to the EPA to implement reform.
• Manufacturers and the EPA will be required to move swiftly in determining the safety of certain chemicals.

In a prepared statement, officials of the Soap and Detergent Association said the announcement “really gets the ball rolling” and added that cleaning product makers and their suppliers want to ensure there is public confidence in the system that governs ingredients.

One chemical on the EPA’s plan for initial review is bisphenol A. Many companies have already discontinued its use and a few local governments have either banned it, or are in the process of passing ordinances to prevent its production and distribution in their states.

BPA is in many hard, clear polycarbonate plastics and is used to line cans that contain food. Although tests on animals have associated the chemical with a variety of abnormalities, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year deemed BPA safe. But the agency's decision has been under fire as evidence about the potential dangers continues to mount. Some studies have shown that BPA appears to accelerate human growth and can increase the likelihood of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

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