Will the Safe Chemicals Act be Enough?

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship:

source: Aberdeen Proving Ground

Did you know that of the 84,000 or so chemicals floating around the American marketplace, the EPA only has “sufficient health and safety information” on 200 of them?

The New York Times recently poked fun at parents who make their own cleaning supplies from baking soda just to try to avoid toxins, and although they also included helpful information on the pervasiveness of toxic chemicals in our world, Andy Igrejas is afraid the public will miss the point: that chemicals are making us sick, and the government has little to do with making the situation better.

In classic backwards logic, the 35-year-old law governing chemicals gives them the same amount of credit and leeway as human beings: innocent until proven guilty. Only they forget to take any of them to court to make sure they didn’t commit any crimes or harm any citizens. If a certain chemical is proven to be harmful, the law makes it very difficult for government agencies to restrict its use.

It’s time for a change.

The Safe Chemicals Act, introduced in May of last year and due soon for a vote in the Senate, offers much-needed reform to our toxic world.

What’s in There?

Some of the points the new act would address include

1. Require EPA to identify and restrict the “worst of the worst” chemicals, those that persist and build up in the food chain;

2. Require basic health and safety information for all chemicals as a condition for entering or remaining on the market;

3. Reduce the burden of toxic chemical exposures on people of color and low-income and indigenous communities;

4. Upgrade scientific methods for testing and evaluating chemicals to reflect best practices called for by the National Academy of Sciences; and

5. Generally provide EPA with the tools and resources it needs to identify and address chemicals posing health and environmental concerns.

I’m not one to get very, if I can help it, and I do think that government does a bit more meddling than it ought. After all, dumb laws are responsible for flame retardants in children’s sleepwear, which takes away my free choice, and raw milk being illegal to sell in Michigan, which I can at least work around.

I don’t think government should make all of our choices with us, but of course there have to be some laws of the land, or we’d all be in a mess of trouble.

Will the Law Help?

source: Lady Dragonfly CC

Is this Safe Chemicals Act a healthy balance between government making the decision about good and bad and simply requiring information to be shared with the consumer? Will it help us get rid of some things that really are nasty?

Allow me to toss out some brief opinions on each point:

  1. Sounds good to me; can getting rid of chemicals possibly be bad? (I bet there is a way. Someone will tell me the way; I’m waiting to learn.)
  2. I’m excited to have more information, and hopefully that information will be easily accessible to the consumer. Where this point could go awry is the tax payer money it will cost to enforce.
  3. How in the world does this point realistically shake out? I guess I need to read the act to see what practical steps are recommended to achieve what is an admirable but vague goal.
  4. This sounds like a good idea…how much will that cost? Will positive change really result from better testing?
  5. As long as the EPA doesn’t start saying that innocuous substances, or perhaps things like raw milk, need to be banned, I’m hoping this point can’t go wrong.

You can read more about the Safe Chemicals Act here and even see the full text of the act here along with some other links of interest.

Do Something to Make Change Happen

If you’re feeling politically active, sign the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families petition here and join over 76,000 other people (hoping for 100,000) in asking your Senator to clean up the toxic chemicals in the U.S. Are you in the D.C. Area? Join the stroller brigade to bring awareness to taking action on toxic chemicals.

The Safe Chemicals Act seems like good legislation and a bandwagon worth jumping on, but any time the government gets involved in daily life, there’s a risk.

What if all the information is as (not) helpful as the federally regulated “zero trans fats” labels that allow trans fat to be used? This is the same governing body, we must remember, that mandates vaccines that many parents disagree with and don’t recognize naturopathy as a genuine medical tool worthy of insurance, even though many find healing with naturopaths.

I’m not sure how many decisions about toxic chemicals the government is qualified to make, but hopefully in this case, knowledge will be power. Knowing what chemicals are swimming in the sea of commerce and just how those chemicals might impact our children’s health may give concerned parents and other citizens the fuel they need to teach one another how to create healthy homes, government regulations or not.

Popular opinion seems to have worked in getting BPA out of most containers on the market today, and I’m hopeful that the culture’s tide will turn even more strongly toward the natural life and away from the toxic chemicals that are unabashedly befriending our children daily.

What do you think? Does government have a place in toxic chemical reform? Is this Act something you hope will pass? (If so, sign the petition!)

Sources: SaferChemicals.org 5/2011, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families press release

Katie Kimball has been “green” since 5th grade when she read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. She remains slightly disappointed that she didn’t actually save the whole thing back then, but now that she has 3 kiddos counting on her, she keeps plugging away hopefully. Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship about real food and natural living and is the author of Healthy Snacks to Go and other eBooks, available for Kindle.