Safer Chemicals, Safer Products: Is Congress Up to Their Task?

written by Ted Schettler, MD, MPH
Science Director

Ted SchettlerIf you are among those who assume that chemicals in your consumer products must first be tested for safety before being put on the market you have plenty of company. But you are wrong. Except for pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and some food additives, no Federal or state law requires safety testing of thousands of chemicals in consumer products that people come into contact with every day.
It’s easy to understand your assumption. After all, biomonitoring studies of blood and urine of newborn infants, children, and adults regularly detect hundreds of commercial chemicals from clothing, toys, house paint, kitchen floors, cleaners, carpets, televisions, furniture, shower curtains, and the other products we live with. They are in our food, water, air, soil, and house dust. Surely they must first be tested for safety. No, that is not required.

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Senate Action on the Safe Chemicals Act

Sharyle Patton
Director of the Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center

On Wednesday, July 25th, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will vote on an improved version of the Safe Chemicals Act, an act that reforms the current set of federal regulations, the Toxic Substances Control Act, which governs toxic chemicals production and use. TSCA entered into force in 1976, and as recent articles in the Chicago Tribune point out, is in need of being brought up to date to reflect current scientific knowledge about the capacity of toxic chemicals to compromise the health and safety of humans and ecosystems. This new version is the result of many months of discussions among key stakeholders and represents a major step forward in balancing stakeholder interests and concerns. Richard Denison from the Environmental Defense Fund provides an overview of the Safe Chemicals Act in his recent blog post, A pivotal moment for TSCA reform.

Fueling the fire? How flame retardants might be doing more harm than good

Sarah Dunagan
Staff Scientist, Silent Spring Institute

The history of flame retardants stretches back at least as far as 450 B.C. when, as noted by Herodotus, the Egyptians soaked wood in alum. But it wasn’t until World War II, and the subsequent flush of highly flammable petroleum-based products into the market, that the flame retardants so popular today came into widespread use. The addition of these chemicals to our couches, TVs, and computers has soared in recent decades in response to flammability standards developed in the 1970s. Of course, we all want to protect ourselves and our families from fires. But the very regulations intended to protect us have unintentionally exposed us to chemicals that may be doing more harm than good. 

Mounting research suggests that flame retardants may cause neurological and reproductive harm, thyroid disruption, and cancer. What is the latest evidence from animal and human studies? Are some people disproportionately exposed? Do less toxic alternatives exist? How can the emerging research inform chemicals policy reform? We explored these questions on a teleconference hosted by the CHE-Fertility Working Group and the Women’s Health and Environment Initiative (WHEI) on April 15.

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