The Safer Chemicals Movement The Uphill Battle to Fix the Outdated Toxic Substances Control Act

Andy Igrejas, national campaign director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families says the best time to pass a sweeping reform of the nation’s chemical laws was prior to the November 2010 elections, when democrats controlled both houses of Congress. But despite the uphill battle faced by the Safe Chemicals Act to overhaul the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, a coalition of environmental, health and consumer groups along with certain legislators and celebrities like Jessica Alba are championing the effort, raising public awareness about the dangerous unknowns of many common chemical exposures. “The public has woken up to the fact that there’s no one minding the store,” Igrejas says.

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Senate Democrats fight to overhaul the TCSA.

When TSCA was established, it grandfathered in some 60,000 chemicals already in existence, without any required safety testing. Today, there are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market that have not undergone rigorous environmental or human health testing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admits that “Certain substances are generally excluded from TSCA, including, among others, food, drugs, cosmetics and pesticides.” To require testing of any grandfathered chemicals the EPA would need proof that they posed a danger to human or environmental health—a nearly impossible feat with so little safety data in existence.

The Safe Chemicals Act would force all chemicals to prove their safety to human and environmental health before being approved. Those considered dangerous would be restricted and would have to be replaced. What’s more, the act would support the development of “green chemistry” or safer chemical alternatives, and with it, new jobs and an economic boost.

Growing public concern over the health consequences of unregulated chemicals has already led to major changes in the marketplace, such as retailers like Walmart and Toys “R” Us banning baby bottles containing the hormone-disrupting Bisphenol-A (BPA) in 2008; followed by states like Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, Vermont and New York banning BPA in children’s products in 2011. The chemical industry, says Igrejas, is “not credible with the public…They could face a system where states are regulating them, Europe’s regulating them, and all they’ve done is prevented a strong federal role from restoring credibility to the marketplace.”