The utter failure of the federal government to take action to protect people from dangerous chemicals has not stopped the growing movement for safer chemicals. In fact, Congressional recalcitrance is having just the opposite effect. The federal leadership vacuum has spurred states, retailers, and manufacturers to create their own rules and standards, which are becoming the new de facto regulatory scheme. During this year alone, 33 states are expected to introduce laws to ban or restrict or force disclosure of certain chemicals. Retailers like Walmart and Target are developing separate policies to eliminate the most dangerous toxic chemicals from store shelves, and major manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble are globally reformulating their brands to stop using certain toxic chemicals.
Retailers and manufacturers claim the driving force for change comes from their consumers, who want to buy safe products that won’t harm their families’ health. The public is demanding increased protections from dangerous chemicals in products and the market is responding.
Will Congress become relevant by leading the way to a new federal regulatory framework that makes protecting public health the number one priority? Or will Congress be sidelined, as the states and marketplace fill the leadership void that anti-regulation forces have created by ignoring the public’s demand for safer chemicals and healthier lives?
Jeanne Rizzo, R. N., is President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund, which works to prevent breast cancer by eliminating exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation linked to the disease.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.