EWG News and Analysis
The latest from EWG’s staff of experts >>
Sen. Lautenberg Introduces Safe Chemicals Act of 2011
By Jason Rano, EWG Senior Legislative Analyst
Once again, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) is leading the effort to try to contain the constant onslaught of dangerous industrial chemicals on our bodies. This week, Lautenberg, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 to reform the broken and failed Toxic Substances Control Act. Lautenberg's bill will establish a system for ensuring that the thousands of chemicals to which Americans are exposed are safe. In 2011 style, the Senator announced his bill on You Tube:
It's not news to any of EWG's fans that regulation of toxic industrial chemicals is virtually non-existent. In the 35 years since President Gerald Ford signed the Toxic Substances Control Act into law - it's the only major environmental law never to be reauthorized - the Environmental Protection Agency has required testing on only 200 chemicals. Only five substances have been restricted or banned. The 1976 law is so weak that the agency was unable to ban asbestos - one of the most carcinogenic substances ever known.
There is little debate that the current law has failed and is in desperate need of an overhaul. We know, thanks in large part to EWG's biomonitoring research projects, that babies are being born pre-polluted with hundreds of chemicals. In recent years we've learned more and more about the risks associated with some of those chemicals. But we still don't know enough about most of them.
Lautenberg's Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 would require chemicals to be tested against a standard that protects the most vulnerable among us, including children. It proposes the same safety standard that has already proved effective and feasible when determining the safety of pesticides. And don't forget, many companies that make chemicals for consumer product also make pesticides.
The legislation would put the onus on chemical companies to prove their products are safe before they reach consumer products. It would give the Environmental Protection Agency authority to require companies to conduct further testing. It would impose some balance on out-of-control confidential business claims. In 2009, EWG released a report that showed that the public had no access to any information to about 17,000 chemicals in EPA's inventory. Since 1976, industry has claimed confidentiality of the chemical identity of nearly two-thirds of the 20,403 new chemicals that came on the market.
While the EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has used her agency's limited authority to require testing and restrict chemicals - including eliminating many spurious confidentiality claims - scientists know much more about risks posed by industrial chemicals than they did 35 years. We can't sit idly by and believe that a law passed more than three decades ago will effectively protect us. Throughout his distinguished career, Frank Lautenberg has been a tireless advocate for protecting public health. Since 2005 he has led the charge to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act. Environmental Working Group is honored to stand with him on this important issue.