Above all, Lautenberg chemical bill doesn’t put consumer safety first  |  NJ.com

Christopher Gavigan and Michael Green
03/18/2015

At the Honest Company, we decided to make “honest” part of our name, knowing that this would encourage people to hold us to the highest standards.

At the Center for Environmental Health, we have been working to protect children and families from harmful chemicals – like lead in children’s products, arsenic in wood playground structures, cadmium in jewelry and many others – since 1996.

Right now, the Senate is considering legislation called the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.” Some have called the bill a proper compromise between an environmental group and the $800-billion-per-year chemical industry. Given that the bill fails to provide vital updates to our decades-old chemical regulations, though, a more honest name for the bill would be the “Chemical Safety for the mid-1980s Act.”

Cory Booker, who succeeded Lautenberg in the Senate, said that though the bill marked an “important step” it still needed “vital improvements.” On March 18, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will meet to hold a hearing on chemical policy.

As recently reported by the New York Times, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Udall,received large campaign contributions from chemical corporations and then suddenly became a champion for their favored approach on regulation of their companies. It’s no surprise then that the bill appears to have everything that chemical corporations want from a “new, improved” chemicals policy.

Other countries have adopted strong chemical regulations in this century. In Europe, chemical safety rules put the burden of proof on chemical companies to show that their products are safe before they are allowed to sell them. This helps keep dangerous chemicals out of everyday products, and out of our air, water and food.

Chemical companies in this country are hoping to undermine similar European regulations that would require products to be tested for safety before going on sale. The Udall approach would allow for a much riskier “sell chemicals first, test them later” policy that would endure for years as the EPA decides on the safety of a chemical without enforceable deadlines.

A more honest name for the bill would be the “Chemical Safety for the mid-1980s Act.”

The bill would also step over vital state laws that are working to protect children and families from the toxic health threats posed by chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics, formaldehyde in flooring, arsenic in rice and hundreds of other chemical hazards.

Speaking on environmental protections, Sen. Udall recently stated, “I don’t think Americans want environmental regulations that keep our air and water clean to be rolled back. … People feel very good about having clean air and water being protected from toxics.”

Yet, his own “chemical safety” act would roll back hundreds of state laws, replacing them with a weaker federal rule that could put Americans at risk from toxics in our air, water, food and every day products for years to come.

Consumers are demanding healthier products with safe ingredients. Finding such safe ingredients is no easy task, but responsible companies know that these efforts will be rewarded by conscious consumers who are looking for healthier products, in a marketplace that is awash with questionable, untested chemicals.

New “chemical safety” rules should make it easier for all companies to find safer raw materials, yet the Udall proposal could actually make things worse. Government incentives to create greener alternatives to toxic materials may flounder while chemical companies would be able to continue selling cheap, risky products for the years before new regulations can be adopted under the byzantine structure created by the new bill.

Thanks to consumer demand, the market for safer products without harmful chemicals is among the fastest growing segments in today’s economy. Still, there are too many people who cannot afford the often more expensive, safer alternatives. Protection from harmful chemicals should not be based on economic class, but should be a health right for all Americans. It would be tragic if Congress were to adopt “new” chemical safety rules that are a giant leap backwards in protecting all children and families from toxic threats.

 

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