Congress may be considering a bill in the next couples weeks which would overhaul the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory powers. Some points contained in this article:
- The passage of the bill is far from guaranteed. However, if successful, a bill could lead to bans against many harmful chemicals that are currently legal, such as asbestos and mercury.
- Products on American store shelves now contain 89,000 chemicals, with a core group of 3,000 making up about 95% of the chemicals in use. Some of these chemicals have been proven in studies to increase risk of cancer, neurological disorders, reproductive defects. Mercury, for example, used to make button-sized batteries, can damage neurological development in fetuses and children. Asbestos, used in home insulation and brakes, among others, can cause cancer.
- The U.S. government currently has no standard mechanism to regulate which chemicals can be used, even those that have been found in studies to harm human health and which have been banned in other countries.
- Consumer advocates blame vigorous lobbying by some chemical manufacturers for a lack of tight regulation.
- Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, points to a 2006 incident in which trailers imported from China provided by FEMA following Hurricane Katrina were found to leech poisonous levels of formaldehyde. “Formaldehyde at those levels is illegal in China and in the European Union, but not here,” he says. “These trailers were made in China, and because our laws are weaker than China’s, they made trailers out of a dirtier material for sale here.” Formaldehyde has been classified both by the EPA and the World Health Organization as a substance that likely causes cancer.
- The EPA’s hands have been tied for decades. In the 1980s, the EPA conducted a 10-year study that yielded 100,000 pages of research, and announced it planned to ban most products made with asbestos. An uproar from the asbestos industry ensued, and in 1991, two years after the EPA’s announcement, an asbestos manufacturer sued the EPA in an appeals court and won, causing the ban to be overturned.