As society has developed, we’ve learned how to utilize the smallest particles – chemicals and elements – in ways that are beneficial to humans. Although these chemicals can help us achieve great industrial and technological, many of them are toxic to humans. In order to protect the greater population from these harmful compounds, the government has set into place a series of laws and initiatives that strive to regulate the use and distribution of these chemicals and disclose products that may contain traces of them. These regulations exist at the state, federal, and international level and attempt to regulate the creation, distribution, use, and disposal of these toxic substances. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has authority over regulation, reporting, and keeping record of all chemical substances and mixtures.
These laws are critical to public health and safety, and keeping them up to date and accurate ensures that they are not misused. When unregulated chemicals impact human heath, they have the potential to cause serious, long lasting effects. In order to protect human health, these regulations must be up to date with scientific research. As we work towards building a more sustainable society, these laws must become stricter, and companies that utilize toxic chemicals must work towards finding greener alternatives. In the cases where alternatives cannot be utilized, full disclosure is a necessity in order to protect consumers.
Although regulations do exist at the federal level, they are out of date and do not encompass a wide range of potentially harmful chemicals. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the main piece of legislation regulating toxic chemicals, but is ineffective at providing large-scale oversight. Since being signed into law in 1976, it has not been significantly updated; meanwhile 20,000 new chemicals have entered American commerce1. The act has only required testing for about 200 toxic chemicals, and has partial regulation for only five2. The rest have not been fully evaluated as far as their impacts on human health and the environment2. Additionally, children are much more likely to be exposed to toxic chemicals than adults, and with 10 to 15 percent of all children born in the U.S. having some type of neurobehavorial development disorder,3 the need for change is much larger. Toxic chemicals in the U.S. are regulated by the Toxic Substances Control Act, which both policy makers and public health experts agree has been largely ineffective4. TSCA lacks mandatory safety requirements before a chemical can gain access to market. In addition, 62,000 chemicals that were in production before the act was passed were “grandfathered in” and did not have to comply with these safety requirements4. and grandfathered in 62,000 toxic chemicals when it was adopted4. Chemical reform is necessary if we want to protect humans and the environment in the future.
Writing to your local government representatives and urging them to support toxic chemical regulation reform can help raise awareness for this issue. Additionally, choosing to consume goods with a “Safer Choice” Label helps support products that are produced without these harmful chemicals.
These particular items are not endorsed or promoted by the US Green Chamber of Commerce. These are used for informational purposes.
Chemical Safety Program
Under the Department of Energy (DOE) this program aims to provide a forum for exchange about chemical management. Some areas of interest include best practices, different lessons learned, and general guidance when it comes to managing chemicals.
Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program
This program under the EPA is focused on improving the safe production, use, and disposal of chemicals. It uses the principles of green chemistry to produce safer chemicals. In addition, it is focused on creating new, innovative technologies for toxicity testing and managing chemical risk.
Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act
This act has currently been introduced in the U.S. Senate, and aims to fix the flaws in the TSCA by mandating safety evaluations on chemicals already in production, requiring safety findings before new chemicals can enter the market, setting concrete deadlines for EPA decisions, and making information more widely available to the public5.
Pollution Prevention Act
This act is focused on reducing the overall amount of pollution the U.S. releases into the environment, including chemical pollutants. It focuses on both the reduction of individual pollutants and the reduction of sources of pollution.
Safer Choice Labeling Program
Formerly known as Design for the Environment, the Safer Choice Program is a voluntary labeling program that signals to consumers that the producers that have achieved this label meet a higher, safer standard of production. Companies that comply with the standards set in this program are eligible to display the Safer Choice Label on their products.
Toxic Substances Control Act
Initially enacted by the EPA in 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) addresses the production, importation, use, and disposal of specific chemicals. Although it is the main piece of legislation regarding control and regulation of toxic chemicals, it needs serious reform to become effective at regulating.
TSCA Modernization Act
Introduced in May 2015 and passed in June, this bill also aims at repairing the flawed Toxic Substances Control Act. Both branches of congress are now working towards combining the goals of this act with those of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act to create one comprehensive piece of reformative federal toxic chemical regulation1.
Salon. “America is on the cusp of the biggest fight against toxic chemicals in decades.” Salon. Accessed March 17 2016. http://www.salon.com/2016/02/19/battle_lines_are_drawn_in_one_of_the_biggest_fights_against_toxic_chemicals_in_decades_partner/
Take Out Toxics. “More than 80,000 Chemicals Available in the United States have Never Been Fully Tested for Their Toxic Effects on Our Health and Environment.” National Resource Defense Council. Accessed March 4 2016.
Ensia. “What are We Doing to our Children’s Brains? Environmental Chemicals are Wreaking Havoc to Last a Lifetime.” Ensia. Accessed 12 March 2016. http://ensia.com/features/what-are-we-doing-to-our-childrens-brains/
Confronting Toxics. “U.S. Chemical Management: The Toxic Substances Control Act.” Physicians for Social Responsibility. Accessed 12 March 2016. http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/confronting-toxics/chemical-management/
Policy and Resources. “EDF Answers Questions about the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.” Environmental Defense Fund. Accessed 12 March 2016. https://www.edf.org/health/edf-answers-questions-about-lautenberg-chemical-safety-21st-century-act