Over 80,000 chemicals are in use today with many of them in consumer products that have little if any health and safety data about them. About 7,000 chemicals are produced or imported every year in amounts above 25,000 pounds in the United States alone. Yet under current law, only five have been banned or restricted since the law was enacted in 1976.
That’s all about to change thanks to a new comprehensive initiative announced Tuesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson who called the nation’s 1976 toxics law “inordinately cumbersome and time-consuming.” In a landmark speech before several hundred people in San Francisco, Jackson laid out the reasons for the plan:
“A child born in America today will grow up exposed to more chemicals than a child from any other generation in our history. A 2005 study found 287 different chemicals in the cord blood of 10 newborn babies – chemicals from pesticides, fast food packaging, coal and gasoline emissions, and trash incineration. They were found in children in their most vulnerable stage. Our kids are getting steady infusions of industrial chemicals before we even give them solid food. Now, some chemicals may be risk-free at the levels we are seeing. I repeat: some chemical may be risk-free. But as more and more chemicals are found in our bodies and the environment, the public is understandably anxious and confused. Many are turning to government for assurance that chemicals have been assessed using the best available science, and that unacceptable risks haven’t been ignored.”
The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act requires that the EPA prove a toxic substance “presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment,” weigh the costs of restricting its use, and choose “the least burdensome” approach to regulating the chemical industry. Combining that toothlessness with a lost court case to asbestos manufacturers in 1989, even though the lung-targeting material had been long-banned, the agency’s effectiveness has been blunted tackling the downpour of chemicals that have not been certified as safe for humans and the environment. The Bush Administration’s environmental policies didn’t help matters much either.
“Today, advances in toxicology and analytical chemistry are revealing new pathways of exposure,” Jackson continued. “There are subtle and troubling effects of chemicals on hormone systems, human reproduction, intellectual development and cognition. Every few weeks, we read about new potential threats: Bisphenol A, or BPA – a chemical that can affect brain development and has been linked to obesity and cancer – is in baby bottles; phthalate esters – which have been said to affect reproductive development – are in our medical devices; we see lead in toys; dioxins in fish; and the list goes on. Many states – including California – have stepped in to address these threats because they see inaction at the national level.”
The Obama Administration initiative also targets brominated flame retardants in electronics and other products. Perfluorinated compounds used in making food packaging and non-stick coatings are also on the EPA’s priority list as well as some parafins used in lubricants. Dyes and pigments using benzidine dyes will also be scrutinized. These chemicals seem to mimic hormones and interfere with the development of fetuses and children. Possible reproductive problems, cancer and other maladies are also reasons for the additional scrutiny of these substances.
The “Essential Principles for Reform of Chemicals Management Legislation” lays out the thinking behind the plan. EnviroReporter.com is especially interested in the EPA’s posted hazard characterizations on 100 additional high production volume chemicals.
This fascinating list includes these categories:
Alkyl Sulfides (4 chemicals)
Alkylphenols (18 chemicals)
AMPS® (2 chemicals)
Cyclic Anhydrides (5 chemicals)
Monocyclic Aromatic Amines (4 chemicals)
Mononitroanilines (2 chemicals)
Monoterpene Hydrocarbons (10 chemicals)
Monoterpene Hydrocarbons (10 chemicals)
Phenolic Benzotriazoles (4 chemicals)
Phosphoric Acid Derivatives (4 chemicals)
Pyridine and Pyridine Derivatives (8 chemicals)
Substituted Diphenylamines (7 chemicals)
Sulfosuccinates (3 chemicals)
Terpenoid Primary Alcohols and Related Esters (4 chemicals)
Thiuram (3 chemicals)
Trimellitate (4 chemicals)
Triphenylboron (2 chemicals)
And if that impressive list doesn’t cause any reaction in you, check out the all the new chemicals the government is finally going to get around to testing to make sure you aren’t harmed by them:
2H-Benzimidazole-2-thione, 1,3-dihydro-, 4(or 5)-methyl-, zinc salt (2:1)
Isocyanic Acid, m-phenylenediiso-propylidene
Phosphonic acid, P-[[bis(2-hydroxyethyl)amino]methyl]-, diethyl ester
Thiophene, tetrahydro-, 1,1 di¬oxide, 3-(C9-C11-iso¬alkyl¬oxy)derivs., C10 rich
This groundbreaking and comprehensive EPA initiative lends hope that we can somehow rein in the rainbow of man-made goo that we’ve visited upon ourselves. Certainly, this is one of the most significant environmental initiatives proposed in the nation in the last 33 years.
One would hope that leadership at the top like this will not only make our chemicals ‘safer’ but that this kind of renewed environmental dedication spreads throughout the ranks of the EPA’s vast organization federally and on the state level. Recent staff changes at the Rocketdyne and Runkle Canyon cleanups suggest that this may indeed be the case locally.
Armed with the new information released by the Administration through this initiative, and all that is sure to come, EnviroReporter.com and others will be better equipped to know if the mindset of this sometimes byzantine and politically-charged agency is actually changing. The numbers don’t lie, after all. Thanks to this new EPA initiative, we’re about to know a whole lot more of them.