Yesterday (July 25) a key Senate committee approved the very first overhaul of federal chemicals regulation in 36 years. The last time any major chemical regulations were passed was way back when most of us were in diapers. with the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), so the passing of the Safe Chemicals Act is big news indeed. Most consider TSCA an incredibly weak U.S. environmental law and for years, a teams of organizations, government officials and concerned parents, among others, have been working hard to pass new laws that will better protect families from harmful chemicals. Now, this work has somewhat paid off. Andy Igrejas, Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families says, “Today’s vote is a victory for American families dealing with many health problems, like childhood cancer, linked to unregulated chemicals.” I wouldn’t get too excited yet though. While most are relishing this “victory,” it’s not time to stop fighting yet. We have a long uphill battle ahead of us before chemical reform becomes a reality, especially as this legislation attempts to move to the Senate floor.

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What this vote means for your family

The Safe Chemicals Act was introduced in April, 2011, sponsored by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg’s (D-New Jersey). The point of the Act is to update and strengthen an insanely flawed American industry and government system that fails to protect you, your family and the environment from toxic chemicals in consumer products. This vote means that a Senate committee has decided to take measures that will hopefully, “Shift how toxic chemicals are tested, approved and used in the marketplace,” says Heather White, EWG’s chief of staff and general counsel. Lautenberg bill is meant to create legislation that will force chemical companies to prove that their products are safe for human health and the environment, before selling said products on the market. White goes on to explain, “Tens of thousands of manmade chemicals are used into every conceivable consumer product without adequate safety testing. If the Lautenberg legislation becomes law, that wild west approach to chemicals management, which has long put human health and the environment at risk, might finally come to an end.” It’s not all about consumers either. The Act takes the chemical industry into account as well. Scott Faber, EWG’s vice-president for government affairs, points out that while many in the chemical industry aren’t thrilled with chemical reform, the bill does included provisions meant to help protect manufacturers’ ability to protect their proprietary trade secrets.

To sum up, we need better chemical laws so when you go shopping the choice of which product is safe (or not) won’t be such a problem. This Act helps accomplish this. Imagine going to the store and being able to buy cosmetics, baby shampoo and cleaning products without having to worry so much about chemicals. It would rock right?

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What’s next? Important steps you must take!

This vote is a good first step, but the fight to get chemicals out of our daily lives is far from over. For instance, the chemical industry, and likely most of the government, is not simply going to quietly fall in line with chemical reform. Senator Lautenberg and other supporters of the Safe Chemical Act have been criticized at every level by the chemical industry. The chemical industry has called the Act “extreme” and think the Act is “moving too fast.Um, 36 years too fast right? On top of this, the chemical industry is adamant that their voluntary efforts are a perfectly reasonable way to address chemical safety issues and concerns. As the always knowledgeable Daniel Rosenberg points out, “It is too early to tell whether the Safe Chemicals Act will reach the Senate floor this year.” Rosenberg, like me and many others, have no doubts that the chemical industry is going to try their hardest via cold hard cash, PR and lobbying to prevent the Safe Chemicals Act from ever reaching the Senate.

What you can do…

Willy nilly chemical use is bad news. I know it and you know it. Chemicals are linked to serious personal and public health problems including cancer, birth defects, obesity, behavioral disorders and much more. If we relax now and leave chemical reform up to the government, I guarantee you that we’ll be chalking up chemical reform as just another massive American fail. As parents we need to stay on top of this issue…

Make your voice count. We’ve seen what happens when citizens take a stand – we accomplish great things. But we’ve also seen what happens when we sit back and do nothing or assume others will create change for us. It’s your chance to make sure chemical reform happens, so as someone else green once said, “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.” Let’s all choose “Do.

+ Senate Panel Votes to Tighten U.S. Chemicals Regulation Law

Lead image by Flickr User photon_de