Government Regulations & The Chemicals in Your Products

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Government Regulations & The Chemicals in Your Products

Let me ask you a question and before I do I’ll go out on a limb and predict your answer will be “yes.” Here’s my question:

Do you, as an American citizen, believe that all additives and chemicals, placed in your consumer products (like soaps, detergents, shampoos and so forth) have been properly tested for safety before you consume them?

If I am incorrect about your answer, then you will be sad like me to learn the following. Because if you answered “yes” then you are very wrong to assume that chemicals in the products you consume have been proven to be safe before you purchase them. Imagine for a moment the implications of that fact and how many Americans falsely make this assumption.

The federal law that regulates industrial chemicals in products is called the “Toxic Substances Control Act.”  And it badly needs some fixing. Essentially, here’s how that law works: if a manufacturer or food processor wants to put a new chemical in a consumer product, they must first notify the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.). Upon notice, the E.P.A. has the burden to determine within 90 days if it needs to take steps to halt or suspend use of the chemical. The manufacturer or food processor does not have to provide any testing or safety data when they notify the E.P.A. If the E.P.A. does not act within the 90-day period then by default the chemical is allowed to be put into the applicable consumer product. How likely can a government bureaucracy like the E.P.A. keep up with such a burden? As Ian Urbina, a New York Times reporter, states the result is “the overwhelming majority of chemicals in use today have never been tested for safety.” (see the link below). So, at least for now, stop making that assumption.

There is hope.  A bill called the “Chemical Safety Improvement Act” (also designated as S.1009)  recently passed the U. S. Senate with strong bi-partisan support. The bill requires the E.P.A. to review all of the chemicals in commerce and when any new chemical is proposed in a consumer product to determine whether or not it is “likely to be safe” before it enters the consumer market. There is also the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2013″ (designated as S.696) that has strong support from the environmental community but not from the chemical industry. Most commentators view “Chemical Safety Improvement Act” as a compromise between the environmental community and the chemical industry. However, it does one very controversial thing: it takes away the right of states to regulate chemicals in consumer products which is certainly to spark serious objections and debate.

The fate of this legislation is very unclear as the House of Representatives does not indicate that it will take it up any time soon. However, I will provide updates if it progresses any further. For now, buying foods with natural ingredients is a start but if you’ve not taken up the practice of reading labels — doing so is the most practical way to decide what risk you want to take when consuming products with chemicals that are likely untested for safety.

Ian Urbina’s New York Time article is at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/sunday-review/think-those-chemicals-have-been-tested.html?ref=ianurbina&_r=0

For a good overview of this important legislation see:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-chameides/chemical-safety-reform-a_b_3396865.html

For those who want a detailed legal analysis of the legislation, here are two very thorough reviews by two prominent law firms:

http://www.lawbc.com/regulatory-developments/entry/the-chemical-safety-improvement-act-an-in-depth-review-and-analysis/

http://www.bdlaw.com/news-1478.html

 

Kirk Schroder / Food Advocate / foodadvocate@ellwoodthompsons.com