Advocating for a Strong Update to the Toxic Substances Control Act | Commentary

Posted July 24, 2015 at 12:13pm

Recently, a CSX train car carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in East Tennessee, forcing thousands of people to evacuate. I watched on the news as brave first responders arrived and worked ceaselessly, putting the health and safety of the population first and foremost. For me, it put in high relief our country’s need to get serious about regulating and removing toxic chemicals from our everyday lives.

Not only do we know how critical this is, we know it’s possible. Through 25 years of creating healthy products that use plant-derived, bio-based ingredients that are not carcinogens, mutagens, neurotoxins or otherwise chronically toxic, Seventh Generation has learned we don’t need toxic products to clean our homes well. And we know how kind bio-based, VOC-free products are to our kids and pets. Besides making bio-based consumer products, Seventh Generation has been working for years to eliminate exposure to toxic chemicals that harm human health by supporting sound state and federal toxics control legislation, and working with our industry to create safer, more sustainable products.

Our more than 1 million consumers demand nothing less. Parents and families should not have to worry about toxic chemicals in their personal care and other household cleaning products.

That is why we have spent years advocating for a strong update to the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Passed in 1976, the TSCA sounds like a law that would help us achieve our mission to nurture the health of the next seven generations. But the TSCA was ineffective the day it was signed into law, allowing tens of thousands of potentially harmful chemicals into the marketplace without proper testing and without disclosure by the companies that produce them. Under this law, companies are not required to demonstrate that the chemicals in their products are safe before they are sold. For example, recent studies have detected nearly 300 chemicals in infants — a vulnerable population we should be putting every effort into protecting.

Americans are justifiably frightened that chemical manufacturers have provided little or no information to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding their potential health or environmental risks of tens of thousands of chemicals in the marketplace, and they are shocked when they learn the EPA does not evaluate them for their safety.

Seventh Generation has brought hundreds of thousands of signatures to Capitol Hill calling for meaningful TSCA reform. We have organized our business partners and even our competitors to establish the Companies for Safer Chemicals coalition. Our customers have called, written and emailed their congressional delegations demanding action.

We are pleased Congress is now finally slated to address the TSCA’s shortcomings. As the Senate prepares to act, we call on Congress to protect Americans by adding three critical, commonsense provisions.

First, the TSCA reform must protect the rights of states to regulate toxic chemicals. States must retain the authority to regulate chemicals if the federal government doesn’t act or is slow to do so — and states should have the right to co-enforce federal law.

Would anyone argue Tennessee’s first responders should have waited for the Federal Emergency Management Agency before responding to that spill? Or sat out the response entirely until the feds arrived on the scene? Of course not. Similarly, we need all hands on deck for other aspects of chemical safety.

Second, the bill must immediately get the most toxic chemicals off the market, and it should require the EPA to identify and review the most high-risk chemicals first. There is no reason to wait to act on the worst chemicals, those like persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (PBTs) or asbestos. These chemicals are widely-known and well-researched, and even the chemical industry admits they are dangerous. Likewise, low-risk chemicals should also be considered a low priority; and industry should not have a hand in deciding when specific chemicals should be reviewed.

In Tennessee, we expected the first responders to focus first on the train cars that contained the hazardous chemicals — they were the known dangers. And we didn’t expect them to start their clean up 10 miles from where the train derailed.

Yes, there may be problems there also, but it’s not the place to go first.

Finally, the EPA needs adequate resources to implement and enforce the law. With tens of thousands of chemicals on the market, the EPA has its work cut out for it. The TSCA will only finally have teeth with sufficient funds to operate.

Not giving the EPA resources would be no different than giving the first responders the mandate to clean up the derailment but no trucks, protective gear or equipment to do so.

These three improvements would ultimately benefit businesses because it would reduce the costs and risks associated with managing chemicals in products and across supply chains. But for Congress, those elected to act for the common good, the most important consideration should be the benefits to our consumers — and your constituents.

They, like the citizens of Tennessee near the derailment, deserve nothing less.

John Replogle is the CEO of Seventh Generation.