Let’s Regulate Chemicals to Protect America

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By Jerrisa Ching

Did you know that more than 80,000 chemicals in the United States are not adequately tested for their effects on human health? Well, I sure didn’t. These 80,000 chemicals especially lurk in your furniture, clothing, cars, and even food. Chemical consumers are often unaware of the risks that chemical-based products have. Because of these health risks, the U.S. federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comes into the story.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the goal of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment through chemical reviews, approvals and bans. However, the outdated law was so complex and burdensome that it couldn’t even uphold a ban on a major carcinogen called asbestos, which kills at least 10,000 Americans each year. To address this issue, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was signed into law on June 22, 2016. The law is an updated TSCA reform that standardizes chemical regulation. It allows stronger authority for the EPA while it also creates incentives to use non-animal testing methods for chemical assessments. But many questions come up from the signed law. How long will it take for the EPA to review all of the unregulated chemicals? How much power does the EPA exactly hold over chemical manufacturers? And do non-animal methods provide valid results that reflect the risks of human health? These questions are overcome by the strengths that the law presents. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act deserves passage since it provides national regulation that protect American families from the risks of widespread chemicals in the United States.

The passage of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act allows the EPA more authority to regulate all present and introduced chemicals in the market. The previous TSCA law limited the EPA’s authority to regulate hazardous chemicals. But the new Lautenberg Act allows the EPA more chemical management using risk evaluation standards. The law provides the EPA with a time frame of two years to create and implement a system that will manage current and new chemicals in the United States. The implementation has standards that will permit the EPA to publish statement of considerations, which include the effects of chemical exposure, economic consequences, and even alternative recommendations.

But how much authority does the EPA exactly have? These regulations mean that state manufacturers will have a harder time in making trade secret claims to keep basic chemical information confidential. It also means that the EPA can take away states’ chemical regulations since the EPA ultimately upholds the agency’s final decision. Some critics like Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, say that states need to be able to make their own decisions about chemical regulation. Because original chemical products are produced from state manufacturers, they should have rights to decide which chemicals to keep or place in the market. Another fact to consider is that the EPA will need to review a minimum of 20 chemicals at a time. Each chemical has a 7-year deadline, which means that chemical industries will have five years to comply after further implementation of the law. But this issue does not consider the fact that the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act develops an interdependent relationship between the EPA and state manufacturers. With these circumstances, the support from the Act allows the EPA to aid states more with chemical regulation. The EPA authority acts as an outlet for manufacturers to ensure that chemicals are safe and appropriate for consumers. With proper EPA authority, chemicals can be evaluated appropriately with standard assessments to protect the health of Americans.

Better authority also means that the EPA has more control over the information they share with the public. The organized system provides consumers with a better understanding of the content and consequences of the products they purchase. When consumers are given more information from the EPA, this improves the public’s confidence in the chemicals present in the market. The adjusted role of the EPA projects a better awareness to the public’s use of chemicals. The public will not only learn more about what chemicals are in their products, but they will also have more options to choose from. The public can make better decisions on purchases based on the EPA’s information and considerations.

But frankly, not all consumers will use this chemical information to make purchase decisions. Some consumers may disregard chemical labels and prefer certain chemical-based products, regardless of the hazards listed on the product. Despite this consideration, the law provides more awareness that is directed to high risk populations, such as children, pregnant women, and people who live near chemical polluters. We can see how the law is relevant since greater chemical exposure to these populations can cause serious illnesses like cancer and birth defects. Without the EPA authority, there would be a lack of awareness from the absence of chemical information. Thus, the Lautenberg Act is needed to share chemical data that provides better confidence and awareness to America’s populations.

The Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act not only protects human health, but also protects animal health. The law calls upon the EPA to use new alternative methods to assess chemicals. In the past, the EPA originally used methods, which included animal testing, as a means to assess chemicals. The Lautenberg Act aims to minimize animal testing through alternative strategies. According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal (PETA) scientists, animal testing is described to be “abusive, unreliable, and wasteful to both animals’ and humans’ lives”. Animal testing presents ethical concerns for animal welfare. Animals used in chemical assessments and research poses unnecessary pain and experimentation. Some animal species like mice and rats are not even protected by laws or regulations. In order to address these ethical concerns, the EPA and other scientists will use alternative methods to assess the toxicity of chemicals. Alternative methods include artificial kidneys, human biochips, and human cytology analysis that can reduce and even replace animal testing.

On the contrary, testing on isolated organs and other biological segments don’t necessarily compare well with a whole biological system. Animal testing is necessary when a study requires a biological system that requires physiological processes like metabolism and transport. The traditional animal testing provides a natural environment with conditions that could happen. Despite this need, animal testing poses the counterintuitive point that not all animal testing is a strong indicator for a chemical effect on human health. Sara Amundson, Executive Director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, mentions that “the predictions of animal tests, even between like species, is only around 50%”. This means that we can’t always rely on data based on non-human species. Since the alternative methods use human organs, tissues, and systems, this can suggest that the data will reflect closely to what can happen to our health. Therefore, the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act justifies the necessity to reduce animal testing for chemical assessments as a way to protect animals’ lives and wellness.

The Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act earns passage from the American public for several reasons. President Barack Obama states that the Act “is a big deal. This is a good law. It is an important law. Here in America, folks should have the confidence to know that the laundry detergent we buy isn’t going to make us sick, the mattresses our babies sleep on aren’t going to harm them”, as an example of how the law will improve chemical regulation across the country’s chemical manufacturers and companies. We need the EPA to implement a standardized assessment system that will review chemicals and provide helpful information to the public. The law permits open doors to increasing consumer confidence and awareness to the health risks of certain chemical products. Individuals deserve the right to know what chemicals are in their product and the consequences from using them. Animals also deserve the right to comfortably live without painful experimentation. The support of the passage accelerates the movement away from animal testing, which will save many animals’ lives. The United States needs to be protected by a law that will mandate chemical regulation for the health of many Americans. Hence, the support of the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act stands firm to protect humans and animals from chemical risks that are present around us.

 

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