Put simply, the U.S. system for regulating toxic chemicals is a failure.
Chemical companies are not required to test the toxicity of their products. They are immune from reporting critical information to the public. And, most importantly, they are able to sell their products under an "innocent until proven guilty" premise.
For nearly 10 years, U.S. chemical policy has stood still and, in many respects has actually gone backwards. But while government policy has been at a standstill, scientists have been hard at work. And our knowledge base on many chemicals, such as endocrine disruptors, has multiplied dramatically.
More science and failed policy. As a result, the case for reform of U.S. chemical policy has never been stronger.
In this case, President Obama and his new, more progressive government will not be able to fix the mess with a simple change of heart. Why? Because many problems in current policy have their origins in the fundamental weakness of the main federal law intended to comprehensively regulate the use of toxic chemicals.
This law, the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), has in essence been unchanged since 1976. It was written (and has been interpreted by the courts) to set an almost insurmountably high bar for Environmental Protection Agency to get information it needs from industry on the potential risks of chemicals or to restrict their use.
For example, after working for nearly a decade to develop a rule under TSCA banning most uses of asbestos, a well known and quite notorious chemical, EPA's action was thrown out by a federal court in part for failing to demonstrate, as required under the act, that the ban was the "least burdensome" method of addressing the problem. Since that decision, TSCA has been, in many respects, a dead letter, regardless of administration.
But there is a way forward and in the coming days I will discuss NRDC's hopes and plans for chemical policy reform.
- Part I: Stemming the Tide of Toxic Chemicals
- Part II: Why Now
- Part III: A Guide to Action
- Part IV: What the Obama Administration Must Do Now
- Part V: Restoring Science
- Part VI: A Special Focus on Endocrine Disruptors