Over the past few decades, we’ve unwittingly carried a lot of toxins into our homes, only to find out later that they weren’t good for us (BPA and flame retardants come immediately to mind). That’s largely because the 80,000 chemicals produced in the United States are regulated by the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, an outdated and inefficient law that lets poorly tested chemicals into the marketplace. Toxic chemical exposure has been scientifically linked to 180 diseases and health conditions, and protecting Americans has fallen largely to the states.
In the past eight years, 18 states have passed 71 chemical safety laws, according to a Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and SAFER States report released this week. The laws addressed single chemicals, such as BPA and toxic flame retardants, and created new regulation programs. Many of the laws targeted chemicals that threaten children’s health—and despite tough opposition from the chemical industry, most of the laws passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.
The report 'Healthy States: Protecting Families from Toxic Chemicals While Congress Lags Behind' from SAFER States and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families details the action taken by state governments against toxic chemicals. Photo Courtesy Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.
The report attributed the rising trend in state-driven toxic chemical laws to three things:
1. Increasing scientific evidence. As more reports surface detailing the health risks—including cancer, infertility, and learning and developmental disabilities—associated with chemicals such as BPA, triclosan, triclocarban and others, it’s becoming harder to ignore the dangers.
2. Outcry from an informed public. Many Americans have been urging their legislators to do something. A recent poll found that 78 percent of Americans are concerned about the threats that toxic chemicals pose to their children’s health.
3. Outdated laws. A law made when Gerald Ford was president can’t keep up with an industry built on R&D.
The report predicts that unless Congress steps up and passes a reform, at least 25 states will introduce their own toxic chemicals legislation in the next session. Given the mess that the current Congress is in, this may be just fine. State governments are getting things done.