RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—If you're sick of hearing about yet another chemical in your canned soup or cancer causer in your sofa, you're not alone. The public is growing increasingly uncomfortable with the lack of chemical regulation in the U.S., and today, a hearing at the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection will take the first step at reforming an antiquated, 30-year-old chemical regulation law.
THE DETAILS: The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was enacted in 1976 to ensure that chemicals manufactured, imported, processed, or distributed in the United States didn't pose any "unreasonable risks to human health or the environment". The law required chemical companies to inform the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the chemicals they were using in products sold in this country, but it put the burden of proof on the EPA to show whether those chemicals posed risks. In theory, it should have worked, except for the fact that when the law was enacted, 62,000 chemicals were already in use, and since then, that number has grown to nearly 80,000. Those that were grandfathered in when the law was passed never had any adequate toxicity testing, and neither manufacturers nor the EPA has adequately tested many of those introduced since. The law also gave the EPA very little authority to ban or regulate the chemicals in the TSCA inventory. Take asbestos, for example: A court ruling overturned the agency's ban on asbestos after claiming that the EPA hadn't adequately shown that asbestos posed an "unreasonable risk" to human health. More recently, the law gave the EPA no authority to do anything about trailers housing Hurricane Katrina victims that were found to have dangerously high levels of the carcinogen formaldehyde.
"Publicly available [toxicity] information, information that you can use to make decisions, exists for just 3,000 to 5,000 chemicals. For the vast majority, there is no publicly available data," says Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of 106 health and environmental groups pushing for more stringent chemical regulation. "The fact that we don't have basic toxicity and safety information on all these chemicals is the largest and most serious flaw," says Tracey Easthope, PhD, environmental health director of the advocacy group Ecology Center in Ann Arbor.