On the Road to Chemical Reform
Octylphenol ethoxylate. Nonylphenol ethoxylate. Triclosan. Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (EGBE).
What do all of these words have in common, beside the fact that they are nearly impossible to pronounce?
These and other industrial chemicals, which studies (1) have linked to cancer, birth defects and other health hazards, are also used in home and office cleaning products, exposing the most vulnerable among us, including young children and pregnant women, to their potential effects.
In a recent post on the January toxic chemical spill in West Virginia, we sounded the alarm on a crisis that left hundreds of thousands of people without safe drinking water for days. At that time, we also referenced the abundance of inadequately regulated chemicals in common household products.
But thanks to the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), one of America’s only major players for chemical regulation -- the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- has been stuck in a toxic ‘catch-22’ for years.
Instead of requiring manufacturers to prove a chemical is safe before it can be used, under TSCA, the EPA must demonstrate a chemical poses a health risk before it can be regulated. It’s difficult for the EPA to get that proof unless the industry does the studies in the first place. And under TSCA, companies only have to submit safety data "if they have it."
This creates a perverse incentive to avoid such health research, since any problems discovered could be used by the government to limit use and thereby reduce profits. Without the ability to address our ignorance of the hazard a chemical may present, the EPA cannot protect public health and the environment. In the meantime, countless Americans are being exposed to potentially toxic chemicals.
It doesn’t take long to realize the implications of chemical legislation that puts the burden of proof on the government, rather than on the companies producing the chemicals. By limiting the EPA’s ability to test and regulate chemicals, as well as by exempting more than 60,000 chemicals due to their existence on the market prior to 1976, TSCA has failed to keep American families safe from chemicals of concern.
For now, the burden of avoiding chemicals of concern lies with you. On a larger scale, we have the opportunity to pass meaningful chemical reform with the introduction of the bi-partisan Chemical Safety Improvement Act. While it's not clear what the final form of the legislation will include (it's currently in negotiations in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee) or if it will even become law, we believe that chemical reform legislation is crucial. Please join us in urging the Senate to protect all Americans from the effects of toxic chemicals.