Kid Safe Chemical Act

Q. I keep hearing about this chemical or that chemical being found to have surprising health hazards—after they’ve been on the market for years in everything from baby bottles to sunscreens or what-have-you. Isn’t anyone working on keeping dangerous substances off the market in the first place? – Justine, TX

A. Common sense would tell you that we should make sure something’s safe before allowing people to eat it, rub it into their skin, or feed a baby with it. But the truth is, hardly any of the chemicals present in common consumer products have to be subjected to safety testing (notable exceptions being pharmaceuticals and pesticides). A lot of people assume that our government requires such testing, but the Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976, declared that all 60,000 chemicals on the market at that time were safe, and set up lax standards for new chemicals. As a result, most health problems having to do with chemical exposures are dealt with on an ad hoc basis in the US, though a combination of voluntary actions from manufacturers and retailers, and maybe a few state laws. That’s after research from a public interest group or university makes headlines—the BPA-in-baby-bottles issue being the most recent example.

But there’s finally some federal legislation on the table now that would help close this huge regulatory gap. The Kid Safe Chemical Act was introduced in Congress this spring. The act, which the Environmental Working Group and other environmental organizations are campaigning for, would require that, duh, new chemicals be safety tested before they’re sold. It would also force the industry to go back and test the ones that have already been grandfathered in—especially the 400 or so that have been widely found in humans. Products would have to be safe enough for infants, kids, and other vulnerable groups. You can expect some aggressive lobbying from the chemical industry, but the more attention the American public pays to the issue, the better chance that safety standards like these have of passing. “This is an issue that people are very aware of lately, especially with the baby bottle issue, so maybe we can finally update this law,” says Alex Formuzis, EWG spokesperson. Might be a good time to let your Congressman know how you feel.

- Sarah Schmidt

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