A glance into chemical reform’s window of opportunity

“Of the nearly 85,000 chemicals on the current Toxic Substance Control Act inventory in the United States, fewer than two percent have received any substantive, data-informed review.”  –Safer Chemicals Blog, 9/14/11

Startling, right?

I became mildly interested in chemical policy many years ago upon reading Rachel Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring, but it was reading Our Stolen Future in a course at the Humphrey School last semester that really sparked my interest.

I couldn’t believe that the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 was so weak and ineffective.  There is a window right now to strengthen U.S. chemical policy.  On April 14, 2011, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (S.847)This Act would fix the major flaws of TSCA.

As it lingers in the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, there has been an explosion of mobilization around its passage.  Online petitions have been launched here, here, and here.

On an issue that typically flies under the broader public’s radar due to its technical nature, environmental and public health advocacy groups are working hard to educate through reports like this and infographics such as this:

Both the Environmental Defense Fund’s I am Not a Guinea Pig campaign and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Take out Toxics campaign have launched videos that also help make the issue hit home:

Take out Toxics from Natural Resources Defense Council.

Chemicals in your home from Environmental Defense Fund.

Meanwhile, the chemical industry has latched onto public frustration with a depressed economy to claim that improving TSCA will eliminate jobs and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has continued to limp along as best it can under TSCA as it stands now.  On August 18th, it proposed to apply science-based criteria to expand its list of 10 chemicals or classes of chemicals of concern that require action to protect public health and the environment.

In lieu of strong federal regulation, states also continue to pass their own regulation.  However, the American Chemical Council continues to spend billions to fight regulation at a state and federal level, even as they see a consumer push for safer chemical manufacturing increasing into the foreseeable future and remove chemicals from some products like baby bottles and sippy cups.  I question what value could be created by the ACC shifting the $9.4 million it spent on lobbying against BPA regulation in California to green chemistry R&D!

Yes, there is another way and Minnesota is positioned to be a frontrunner.  The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment recently published this feature on green chemistry.  With an ounce of prevention, we can reduce situations of groundwater contamination like this in our state.

Here’s a couple of additional resources on the issue of chemical policy I hope to get to in the next month that I thought I’d share with you:

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