It would be hard to design a law more stacked against the regulators than the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which is supposed to ensure the safety of thousands of chemicals used in household products and manufacturing. It is long past time for Congress to reform the law so that it provides genuine protection against harmful chemicals in products like shampoos and detergents.
Tens of thousands of inadequately tested chemicals were allowed to remain in use after the law was enacted. For the most part, the law requires the government to prove that a chemical is unsafe before it can be removed or kept off the market instead of requiring manufacturers to prove that their chemicals are safe before they can be sold and used. And it makes it hard for the Environmental Protection Agency to pry the information it needs to assess risk from the manufacturers or to require them to conduct tests.
Companies have to alert the E.P.A. before introducing new chemicals, but they don’t have to provide any safety data. It is up to the agency to find relevant scientific information elsewhere or use inexact computer modeling to estimate risk. The agency can only ask the company for data or require testing if it first proves there is a potential risk, which is hard to do without the company’s data.
The failure of the law can be read in these dismal statistics: since 1976, from a universe of chemicals that now numbers roughly 85,000, the agency has issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals.
Senators Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat of New Jersey, and Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat of New York, recently introduced a bill â the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 â that would modernize and reform the law, mostly by requiring manufacturers to prove that a chemical is safe before it can be sold. It has more than two dozen Democratic co-sponsors but is opposed by the chemical industry and many Republicans, who argue that the E.P.A. already has enough power to regulate chemicals and simply needs to exercise it more effectively. The American Academy of Pediatrics, a far better guide to what’s needed to protect children, endorsed the bill on Wednesday.