Weekly Columns

As parents and grandparents, we want to protect our children from danger. We keep a close eye on what they eat, where they’re playing and who their friends are, but there are hidden hazards that can be harmful that we aren’t protecting against. 

Kathy in Little Rock spelled out the problem in a letter she sent me last year. “I am concerned about the health effects of toxic chemical exposures. Our current chemical safety law allows dangerous chemicals in our homes, schools, and workplaces-- chemicals linked to cancer, endocrine disruption and asthma,” she wrote. 

I share Kathy’s concerns because we need to improve chemical safety. At the same time, we must recognize that chemicals and innovations in chemistry improve our lives. Chemistry brings new medicines and medical treatments, cleaner energy, abundant and safe foods and an improved quality of life. 

Many safeguards are in place, and most companies are careful to not encourage the use of unsafe chemicals. However, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has not been an effective tool. It hasn’t been updated since it was signed into law in 1976. In the last four decades, just five toxic chemicals have been restricted by this particular law, and it has prevented only four toxic chemicals from going to market — out of the more than 23,000 new chemicals manufactured. Efforts to ban asbestos, a known carcinogen, were even unsuccessful.  

The ineffectiveness of the law has forced states and private businesses to set their own restrictions. Companies like Walmart are proactively to regulating what’s in its stores. The Wall Street Journal reported in December that the company “maintains a list of 10 what it considers hazardous chemicals that it encourages manufacturers to avoid.” 

Americans deserve a predictable, uniform federal regulatory program that will improve public confidence in the safety of chemicals, promote innovation and enhance certainty in both federal and state chemical regulation. That’s why I worked to overhaul TSCA. 

In December, the Senate unanimously supported legislation to reform this chemical safety law with the passage of The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. This legislation will improve public confidence in the safety of chemicals, create regulatory certainty for business and more uniform protections for American families. It allows us to take advantage of advances in technology and research to improve safety for consumers and the environment. 

While I often criticize mandates and regulations that raise costs without providing smart benefits, I support thoughtful, science-based rules that protect people and the environment. EPA needs the authority to review the safety of existing chemicals in order to protect public health. 

As a grandfather with two young granddaughters I want them to be safe as they grow up. I also want our chemists and scientists to continue developing new chemicals and products that will make their lives better. This legislation provides a smart, balanced approach to improving chemical safety.