The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act is the first measure taken by Congress in 40 years on the regulation of toxic chemicals. The new law changes the U.S. regulation of all products in chemical industry without taking non-risk factors into consideration, from the novel compounds to those that have been in use for many years.
Overview of the Lautenberg Act
One of the biggest changes is that the new legislation revokes the old rule that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has to use the least taxing means of protecting citizens against the risks of chemicals. This rule had previously made it extremely difficult to ban certain chemicals effectively.
In addition, the Lautenberg Act gives the EPA the authority to call for the development of information about a chemical by establishing a new risk-based screening process. The EPA can review chemicals at any time based on received information that it gets after a chemical is on the market. It also has to make public all documents and reviews related to chemicals.
Moreover, the EPA has to divide the number of existing chemicals into groups of low-priority and high-priority according to safety standards. At the same time,it has to conduct safety assessments for high-priority chemicals. Most importantly, the EPA now has the right to prohibit the use, distribution, or manufacture of an existing or new that doesn’t meet the EPA’s safety standards.
The Lautenberg Act and Chemical Safety
For the first time, the EPA has to make a confirmation of safety for every new chemical as a permit to enter the market. The Lautenberg Act makes it clear that the manufacture of new chemicals can’t start without EPA’s official approval. When the EPA isn’t able to determine whether the chemical meets the standards or not, it has to impose restrictions on it or even prevent the manufacture of that chemical. Then, the EPA has to analyze thoroughly if the chemical meets safety standards.
If the EPA doesn’t find enough information to determine the safety of the chemical, it can temporarily ban the manufacture of that chemical. The Lautenberg Act doesn’t require companies to make up-front safety data information for every new chemical, but the EPA can demand to test any chemical if necessary. It has the right to do so by negotiating agreements or issuing direct orders.
Furthermore, chemicals won’t need to show potential risk in order to be tested by the EPA. When a new chemical enters the market, it is subject to the standard’s safety test. If the EPA decides to impose restrictions on a chemical, it has to take costs and benefits of restrictions into consideration as well as think of alternative restrictions.
Making Consumer Products Safer
The chemicals covered by the Lautenberg Act are used in many applications that we see every day, including cleaning products, wall paint, detergents, and even in toys and domestic products. The only chemicals that are not covered by the standard are those that people put on their bodies deliberately – food additives, prescription drugs, etc. (which are all monitored by the Food & Drug Administration). Otherwise, every consumer product or material that contains chemicals is regulated by Lautenberg act.
Nowadays, safety data is being collected from only 3,000 widely used chemicals through voluntary initiatives between the chemical industry and EPA. The Tennessean writes that there is still very little information about more than 80,000 other chemicals used in the commercial industry. Only 250 chemicals have undergone mandatory testing since 1980. The Lautenberg Act will change that.
There are chemicals that are used in thousands of products. While the vast majority of them may be harmless, some of them pose a significant threat to human health. For example, there are many products that still contain asbestos, like talcum powder. There are even toxic ingredients in cosmetics like formaldehyde that have been proven to be human carcinogens or have other ill effects on human health.
The fact is that there are also many chemicals that people use every day, but know very little about them. That’s why EPA has to start sorting through them to get chemicals that can put people’s lives in danger.
Next Steps for Consumer Chemical Safety
Over the next year or more, the EPA will organize tests of chemicals that have already attracted attention. Those chemicals include creosote, benzene, ethylene dibromide, carbon tetrachloride, and many others. Manufacturers will have to make safety sets, and the EPA will start restricting unsafe chemicals.
The law will allow the EPA to identify the chemicals that are used today and cause severe health risks. It will then initiate changes in the production of many products like plastics, furniture, cleaning supplies and medical devices. Manufacturers will have to consider toxicity risks before they launch any new chemical to market and include it into products.
The Lautenberg Act is expected to help overcome problems related to the toxicity of chemicals that the United States has been struggling to regulate over the last 40 years. While the struggle isn’t entirely over, a big step has been taken toward removing harmful substances from the market – and making all of the things we use every day a little bit safer.