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Chemical Reform: Time to Strengthen and Fix Legislation | Commentary

It might sound like a crazy thing to say but the United States Senate has been doing a pretty good job at compromise in the past month or so. From student loans, to immigration, to even avoiding a crisis over filibuster reform, Democrats and Republicans have been working together to move forward on getting things done. It’s my hope that this sense of compromise holds intact for an important piece of legislation that stands to make the products we buy online and off store shelves a lot safer when we bring them into our homes.

Several months ago, the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., announced an historic agreement on legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. The bipartisan bill — the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S 1009) — would update regulations on toxic chemicals for the first time since the original legislation was passed more than 30 years ago. Tragically, Lautenberg passed away before he and Vitter could usher the bill into law. And now, what was once a strong bipartisan compromise with 25 co-sponsors has become a piece of legislation with a very uncertain future.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is holding an upcoming hearing in the Environment and Public Works Committee that may very well determine the fate of the compromise. As it stands, the Lautenberg-Vitter bill is a step in the right direction toward updating our outdated and minimal standards of regulation.

However, aspects of the bill must be strengthened. In conjunction with our partners, Women’s Voices for the Earth, the Breast Cancer Fund, and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, we’ve identified some areas where the bill can be improved.

First, the legislation must respect the rights of states to protect their residents when the federal government fails to do so. Second, science, not industry influence, must drive policy. Third, the compromise must be updated to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to take fast action on the most harmful chemicals and include specific timetables for such regulatory actions. Fourth, the most vulnerable among us, including pregnant women, children, workers and communities who are disproportionately exposed to chemicals, must be protected. And lastly, the legislation should require public access to information regarding the safety of chemicals. The onus must be on chemical manufacturers to demonstrate that the chemicals they use are safe, and the federal government must have the regulatory tools and financial resources to make this so.

It is my hope that the Environment and Public Works Committee will use the hearing as an opportunity to build on the sincere efforts made by Lautenberg and Vitter to improve the way we regulate chemicals in this country.

Since the woefully inadequate Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, tens of thousands of incompletely tested chemicals have entered the marketplace. Under this law, companies are not required to demonstrate that the chemicals in their products are safe before they are sold. For example, recent studies have detected nearly 300 industrial chemicals in infants — a pretty vulnerable population that we should be putting every effort into protecting.

We can, indeed we must, protect the health of our children and future generations by first strengthening, and then passing, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013.

At Seventh Generation, we have been creating healthy products for more than 25 years by using plant-derived, bio-based ingredients that are not carcinogens, mutagens, neurotoxins, or otherwise chronically toxic. We have learned that we don’t need toxic products to clean our homes well, and we’ve learned how kind bio-based, VOC-free products are to our kids and pets. Besides making bio-based consumer products, Seventh Generation has been working passionately for years to eliminate exposure to toxic chemicals that harm human health by supporting sound state and federal toxics control legislation, and working with our industry to create safer, more sustainable products. Parents and families should not have to worry about toxic chemicals in their personal care and other household cleaning products.

If Boxer, Vitter and the committee feel the same way we do, they will work with the Democrats and Republicans who have already come together and find ways to strengthen and fix the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.

John Replogle is president and CEO of Seventh Generation.

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