Archive for March 15th, 2010|Daily archive page

The private sector agrees – we need chemical reform laws

Last week’s hearing was the third and last in the series leading up to reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) which was a bill that was passed into law in 1976 and has not been updated since. Sen. Lautenberg stated firmly that we need to update our regulations to reflect current scientific understanding, ban the use of dangerous chemicals found in newborn babies, and put the burden on industries to demonstrate the safety of their chemicals.

To my surprise, all of the panelists representing the private sector agreed generally that we need to reform TSCA. Both Linda Fisher , Vice President of Safety Health and the Environment of DuPont and Dr. Neil C. Hawkins, Vice President of EH&S and Sustainability at The Dow Chemical Company said that the private sector should be the ones responsible to prove that their chemicals are safe.

Really? They really said that? If we take a deeper look into this, we realize that there are actually two ways to look at this. One way is through the lens of morality which says that this is good that they agree because the burden of proof should be on them. The other way is through the lens of corporations which says that this is good because then they would have more control over their products.

Of course, knowing that there is this benefit to chemical corporations makes me more skeptical on the actual benefit to the public. If we allow these corporations to test the safety of their own products, wouldn’t there be an incentive to twist the findings? I mean, yes they should prove that their chemicals are safe, but they shouldn’t be the ones doing it, if that makes any sense. What sounds like the best solution to me is to have another party, like the EPA, do it.

My theory on why these companies are so willing to prove that their products are safe is because they smell regulation coming. They know society is heading that direction and if they can’t steer the wheel, they’ll end up suffering more. The official reasons for DuPont changing its position on reforming chemical safety laws in the past few years makes perfect sense. Fisher mentioned 3 reasons: one, is that there’s growing awareness of toxic chemicals which can be felt through the market; two, is that chemical regulation is moving across the globe and we should lead it; three, is that in the absence of federal reform, they are seeing evolving state programs which create uncertainty in the market place.

So yes, they are supporting chemical safety law reform because it benefits them financially which makes perfect sense. I was just taken aback for a moment when I heard these companies make statements which sounded like they were based on morality. Silly me.

But in all seriousness, I do hope that this bill passes. We owe it to the future and to the planet.