Think Out Loud

An invitation to debate ecology, art, human development and enlightenment

Congress considers new regulation on chemicals in consumer products

 

Chemicals

Certain household products contain chemicals that disrupt the function of the endocrine or immune systems and may cause disease. Photo Courtesy of Milosz1 under the Creative Commons license.

Editorial

The U.S. Senate is debating the merits of a bill to address chemicals in consumer products.  The Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), available here and summarized here, could increase the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate the safety risk of chemicals and remove them from store shelves if they pose a significant threat to human health.

Studies of household chemicals show that our bodies absorb many of these additives, and some may cause serious health conditions, especially in pregnant women and young children.

Consumer products developers generate over 700 new chemicals each year.  Under the current regulation scheme, these chemicals hit the market without EPA oversight.  Some new chemicals may be kept confidential from the public, especially if companies think their use makes a product more competitive.

Although CSIA enjoys bipartisan support in Congress, not everyone thinks the bill goes far enough.  In a recent editorial in the Guardian, Seventh Generation President and CEO John Replogle criticized CSIA for placing too much emphasis on a cost-benefit analysis of regulation.  Replogle suggests that the bill prioritizes the good of companies over the health of people, adding that “the oft-suggested trade-off that asks us to accept a polluted environment and a mounting human health toll or live in caves without modern necessities is a false dichotomy.”

The case of chemical regulation in the U.S. is one example of the potentially self-correcting principles of Enlightenment values in the West.  Unlike spiritual enlightenment philosophy from the East, the Age of Enlightenment in Europe rose up in response to stifling Catholic dogmatism in the 17th century and earlier.  Enlightenment thinkers declared that human rationality and the scientific method formed the best possible basis for knowledge, and people should harness this knowledge to improve humanity.

Enlightenment thinking spurred on a wealth of intellectual and technological progress.  Still, with human beings as the standard bearers  in all respects, things like environmental health took a hard back seat in the wider cultural consciousness.  Human beings, seen as separate and elevated in the existential plane, could not foresee the endless and intricate interconnections between the exploitation of Nature and the health and function of the body.

It seems that this same cultural emphasis on Knowledge, however, may yet bring humankind back to a greater appreciation of its essence as part of a system rather than the pinnacle of creation.  With respect to chemicals regulation, this means taking to heart the work of scientists, environmental groups and legislators fighting to safeguard health, and reigning in the temptation to engineer our way toward cheap profits with a huge ecological price tag.

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5 comments on “Congress considers new regulation on chemicals in consumer products

  1. The Urchins
    February 19, 2014

    It’s so scary to think about all of the chemicals we slather on our faces, hair, fingernails… not knowing the impact they will have in the long term. On the flip side, it’s almost depressing trying to find products that don’t have them on their ingredient list. Do you know what the outcome was of the CSIA?

    – Margaret

    • Samantha Sprole
      February 22, 2014

      Hello, Margaret:

      The last congressional action taken on this issue and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act seems to be a hearing in the Senate Environmental and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife. That body characterized this action as “committee consideration.”

      This is after the bill was introduced to the Senate on May 22, 2013 and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works the same day. More than two months later this committee held hearings on the bill.

      I cannot readily find information on the substance of the “committee consideration” action nor the prior hearings. I will write to the lead sponsors of the bill to try and obtain this information.

      And so it’s been seven months from the time of the initial hearings to the latest action in this subcommittee.

      This link will bring you to the source of my information, a beta site that tracks bills through congress: http://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/1009/actions
      Here you will find a summary and text of the bill, a database of all actions taken and a list of the 25 cosponsors to the bill.

      Hope this helps.

      -Samantha

      • Samantha Sprole
        February 22, 2014

        I should add a timeline/summary of the actions taken thus far in the Senate. I copied and pasted this from the website listed above.

        02/04/2014 Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife. Hearings held.
        Type of Action: Committee Consideration
        Action By: Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife

        07/31/2013 Committee on Environment and Public Works. Hearings held.
        Type of Action: Committee Consideration
        Action By: Senate Environment and Public Works

        05/22/2013 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
        Type of Action: Introduction and Referral
        Action By: Senate

        05/22/2013 Introduced in Senate
        Type of Action: Introduction and Referral
        Action By: Senate

  2. Samantha Sprole
    February 22, 2014

    Well, it seems that the original sponsor of the bill, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) died last year, age 89 (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-03/frank-lautenberg-limousine-leftist-u-s-senator-dies-at-89.html)
    I will address my questions to the cosponsors. Of course, you and anyone else who is concerned about this issue is welcome to do the same.

    Also, the beta website says elsewhere that the “committee consideration” does constitute a “hearing” on the bill.

  3. The Urchins
    February 26, 2014

    Thanks, Samantha! Especially for that beta site… there are so many debatable bills that seem to slip through without the public noticing before it’s too late.

    Orion ran an article a couple of months ago about all of the untested (or at least not FDA tested…) chemicals and minerals in make up, hair products, soaps… everything we use on a day to day basis for our entire lives. The general attitude of the piece was ‘and you’re surprised you got cancer?’

    Anyway, I’m curious to see how this plays out… especially now that the sponsor is dead.

    -Margaret

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