300 million guinea pigs: who is testing toxic chemicals? 6/11
Federal laws require medicines and pesticides to be safety tested before they are sold to consumers. But when it comes to industrial chemicals, it’s a different story.
The federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), passed in 1976, has allowed thousands of industrial chemicals -- used in children's products, cleaning products, toys, furniture, electronics and many other products -- to reach consumers without that same safety testing. American consumers are the guinea pigs.
Before a chemical’s use can be restricted or prevented, the TSCA not only requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prove that a chemical is unreasonably dangerous, but also limits the EPA's ability to obtain information from companies about the potential environmental and health effects of the chemicals they produce. So, in effect, EPA’s hands are tied.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, "The identities of almost 20% of the tens of thousands of chemicals in commercial use in the United States—from flame retardants to laundry detergent additives—are kept secret from consumers, scientists and government regulators. And even health and safety information, which under TSCA is supposed to be ineligible for trade secret protection, is routinely claimed by companies to be confidential, rendering the information inaccessible to the public."
On April 14, Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act (S. 847) to create an overhaul of the 35-year old act. The new bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and others.
The bill would shift the burden back to the chemical industry to prove its products are safe, establish health standards for chemicals to protect children and other vulnerable groups, and enhance the public's right to know about the safety and use of chemicals.
Consumers Union’s Director of Technical Policy, Urvashi Rangan, notes: "Consumers believe that products on the market have been tested for safety, but in fact this is not the case. As a result, consumers are exposed to several potentially harmful ingredients still on the market. We need a progressive approach to chemical reform that places the burden of proving safety on companies who sell the product before it can be used in the marketplace—instead of placing the burden of proving harm on consumers."
Important provisions of the new bill include:
• Requiring EPA to identify and restrict the "worst of the worst" chemicals, those that persist and build up in the food chain;
• Requiring basic health and safety information for all chemicals as a condition for entering or remaining on the market;
• Reducing the burden of toxic chemical exposures on people of color and low-income and indigenous communities;
• Upgrading scientific methods for testing and evaluating chemicals to reflect best practices called for by the National Academy of Sciences; and
• Generally providing EPA with the tools and resources it needs to identify and address chemicals posing health and environmental concerns.
Among the bills’ supporters is a diverse coalition of organizations called The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, which includes Consumers Union. The coalition represents more than 11 million individuals and includes parents, health professionals, advocates for people with learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health advocates, environmentalists and businesses from across the nation.
Watch a video about the new bill from Sen. Lautenberg.
Click here (pdf) to read the bill.
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