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GAO: We're Flying Blind

Friday, August 11, 2006

On August 2, an official from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee that our nation's law governing industrial chemicals needs to be dramatically changed.

John B. Stephenson of GAO said, "In summary, EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] does not routinely assess the human health and environmental risks of existing chemicals and faces challenges in obtaining the information necessary to do so. [The law's] authorities for collecting data on existing chemicals do not facilitate EPA's review process because they generally place the costly and time-consuming burden of obtaining data on EPA, rather than requiring chemical companies to develop and submit such data to EPA. Consequently, EPA has used its authorities to require testing for fewer than 200 of the 62,000 chemicals in commerce when EPA began reviewing chemicals under [the law] in 1979."

In other words, for most of the industrial chemicals in consumer products on store shelves today, we don't know what's going on.

The law in question, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), assumes chemicals are innocent until proven guilty. Companies provide very little data up front when they want to put a chemical into use, and then it's up to consumers or the government to prove harm before the government can even ask for data (let alone limit use or ban a substance).

Stephenson said, "Since the Congress enacted TSCA in 1976, EPA has issued regulations under the act to ban or limit the production or restrict the use of only five existing chemicals or chemical classes."

Check out this chart, which shows that more often than not in the U.S., we study chemicals after we suspect harm, not before: https://www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden1/factsheets/welltested.php .

The point: we need to test chemicals before they go on store shelves, not after. Congress should read the GAO's report carefully and pass the Kid Safe Chemicals Act, which would have companies prove their products are safe enough for children.

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