I remember when I first became aware that the toxic chemicals in consumer products I had in my home were affectingly health. It was 1978. When this was first suggested to me, I said, “No, that can’t be true. The government wouldn’t allow products to be sold that are toxic.” And I’ve heard that over and over through the years from people who can’t believe it when I tell them there are toxic chemicals in consumer products.
But the truth is, the government hasn’t been protecting us, and it looks unlikely that it will start protect us any time soon. This is why I do my work, and why you need to learn where the toxic chemicals are in consumer products and choose the safest ones. The government isn’t doing it.
Last Thursday, House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on legislation that would reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
Many have attempted to reform the law for years, but every attempt was blocked by the chemical industry.
This new legislation is a compromise between improved environmental standards and the demands of industry. And the chemical industry has backed the bill.
But will this help?
Here’s the current situation.
In 1977, the American Chemical Society had identified over 4 million chemicals, but only 62,000 were on the market. These were listed on the original TSCA Inventory of Chemical Substances. TSCA “grandfathered” these 62,000 chemicals, allowing these substances to remain on the market without first assessing toxic impacts. New chemicals, however, would be subject to review for health and environmental risks. Today the number of chemicals listed on the TSCA Inventory has grown to about 84,000. But the EPA has only required about 200 of these chemicals to be tested.
The Toxic Substances Control Act was intended to give the Environmental Protection Agency the power to protect the public and the environment from “unreasonable risks of injury … associated with the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal of chemical substances” But that hasn’t happened.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated in 2009, “Right now, we are failing to get this job done … not only has TSCA fallen behind the industry it’s supposed to regulate — it’s been proven an inadequate tool for providing the protection against chemical risks that the public rightfully expects. … Since 1976, EPA has issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals determined to present an unreasonable risk. Five from a total universe of almost 80,000 existing chemicals.”
But I couldn’t find even those five. [Here’s an account of one man’s search for the “Toxic Five”.]
The new legislation requires the EPA to begin evaluating the untested chemicals and prioritize high-risk chemicals well. The EPA will need to test at least 20 chemicals at any given moment and each test must take no longer than seven years.
I can’t even do the math on this. But it’s irrelevant. The point is at this rate it’s going to take thousands of years to make any meaningful progress. And it’s not going to happen in our lifetimes, or our children’s lifetimes or even our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
But the bigger issue is the new legislation still puts the testing of chemicals and the evaluation of toxicity in the hands of the government. Meanwhile, manufacturers are allowed to make and sell chemicals that harm our health and the environment, leaving consumers to decide for themselves what’s toxic and what’s not.
I agree there needs to be regulation. [Listen to my discussion on this point withBryan McGannon, Policy Director for theAmerican Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) on Toxic Free Talk Radio.]
So far, regulation hasn’t solved the problem.
But there is something that has been working: consumers are voluntarily choosing to purchase nontoxic products. And because of this market demand,manufacturers are making more and more products that do not produce “unreasonable risk of injury.”
In the last thirty years the market has gone through a tremendous shift toward nontoxic products of all kinds. Organic foods, body care products, and clothing are now commonplace. All over the world, consumers are demanding and getting nontoxic products, from producers small and large.
We can do this ourselves. It will take continued education and continued good purchases, but the plain fact is: if we don’t buy toxic products, manufacturers won’t make them. The more we buy toxic-free, the more toxic-free products will become available. Many companies are already moving in that direction.
And it’s not all that difficult to determine that a chemical is toxic. There are plenty of studies available on the internet. We all can read them. We all can choose the risks we want to take. We can all observe in our own bodies if exposure to a chemical is helping or harming our bodies.
I want to acknowledge and thank every manufacturer of toxic-free products and every consumer who buys them.
Please continue! Change in the world will happen from each of us acting individually from our own sense of knowing what is right and good. There will be a tipping point. We’re already doing it, and our numbers can only increase. There is actually more agreement on this point than is visible. The shift has occurred. There is no shortage of toxic free products to choice from [just take a look atDebra’s List
The bill is expected to reach the House and Senate floors for final votes any day now.
Let’s watch and see what happens, but still keep doing what we are doing.
The real change happens from our own hearts and our desires to be healthy and happy and support life. We each have the freedom to make our own choices in that regard, regardless of regulations.
The Declaration of Independence says:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.
In my opinion, every regulation should be designed to secure these unalienable rights.
At the same time, each of us as citizens and every business should take responsibility to secure these rights as well.
NEW YORK TIMES: Lawmakers Reach Deal to Expand Regulation of Toxic Chemicals
Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act
BLOOMBERG: DuPont, Dow to Get What They Asked For: Tough EPA Oversight
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I don’t want to give the impression that the EPA is doing nothing to eliminate toxics. They are doing some things. Here is one example I was able to find.
In January 2006, the EPA invited the eight largest fluorocarbon producers to participate in the 2010/15 PFOA Stewardship Program.
There were two goals:
- To commit to achieve, no later than 2010, a 95 percent reduction, measured from a year 2000 baseline, in both facility emissions to all media of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), precursor chemicals that can break down to PFOA, and related higher homologue chemicals, and product content levels of these chemicals.
- To commit to working toward the elimination of these chemicals from emissions and products by 2015.
According to the EPA, “All companies have met the PFOA Stewardship Program goals.”
I would love to see more programs like this from the EPA.
It really does take all of us—consumers, manufacturers, retailers, regulators, healthcare providers, the media and more—to eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products, our bodies, and the environment.