EarthTalk is a Q&A column from E/The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: What is happening to update and reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which I understand is considerably outdated and actually permits the use of thousands of chemicals that have never been adequately tested for safety?
Henry Huse, Norwalk, Conn.
The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) was intended to protect people and the environment from exposure to dangerous chemicals. But the standards at that time dictated that only those chemicals deemed an "unreasonable risk" were subject to testing and regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. When the law went into effect, some 62,000 chemicals escaped testing and most have remained on the market ever since. In the interim, however, we have learned that many of them have been linked to hormonal, reproductive and immune problems, cancer, and a plethora of environmental problems.
And since 1976, an additional 22,000 chemicals have been introduced without any testing for public or environmental safety. Some of the potentially worst offenders can be found in cleaning and personal care products, furniture, building materials, electronics, food and drink containers, and even kids' toys.
That means that upwards of 80,000 chemicals commonly used in the United States have never been fully assessed for toxic impacts on human health and the environment, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental research and advocacy organization. Many are concerned that exposure to chemicals is a cause of many modern disease epidemics, potentially including cancer, reproductive problems, obesity, autism, attention deficit disorder and other developmental disabilities. "Under the current law, it is almost impossible for the EPA to take regulatory action against dangerous chemicals, even those that are known to cause cancer or other serious health effects," reports the group.
The EPA's own inspector general found TSCA inadequate, according to the NRDC, which says that "the law is widely considered to be a failure." NRDC is not the only group concerned about beefing up TSCA. The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition includes more than 200 nonprofitsincluding Physicians for Social Responsibility, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG), the Environmental Defense Fund and the Lung Cancer Alliance, among many others representing a collective membership of more than 11 million individual parents, health professionals, advocates for people with learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health advocates, environmentalists and businesspersons from across the country.
By banding together, coalition leaders hope to convince Congress to fix the problem by finally updating TSCA and creating the "foundation for a sound and comprehensive chemicals policy that protects public health and the environment, while restoring the luster of safety to U.S. goods in the world market."
Specifically, the coalition is lobbying Congress to revamp TSCA so that the most dangerous chemicals are phased out or banned outright and that others are tested and regulated accordingly, all the while ensuring the public's right-to-know about the safety and use of chemicals in everyday products. Also, the coalition is calling for federal funding to expand research into greener alternative chemicals to replace those with known health hazards. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., has championed the cause, with the introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act in April 2010.
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