A First Look at What the New Safe Chemicals Act May Mean for Parents: It Won’t Be an Immediate Panacea

April 15th, 2010

This morning, the Safe Chemicals Act,  long awaited legislation to reform the nation’s outdated chemicals law, The Toxic Substances Control Act, was introduced in Congress. This came in response to years of lobbying by environmental health watchdogs like the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Coalition; Healthy Child, Healthy World , The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and The Environmental Working Group; physicians like Dr. Alan Greene; authors like Stacy Malkin of “Not Just a Pretty Face,”  Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse, Jennifer Taggert of The Smart Mama’s Green Guide, and Nena Baker of “The Body Toxic,” and yes, activists like Moms Rising and bloggers like my Green Moms Carnival friends.

It was just a year ago this month that the Green Moms Carnival bloggers were  taken to task by the chemical lobby and others for our “hysterical” reaction to finding out that our favorite baby bath products contained probable human carcinogens.  Some of us, like Sommer of Green and Clean Mom, who hosted the Toxic Tub Carnival, were even attacked by other Mom bloggers for being so rude as to question those companies that market baby products with 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde.

But in the end, all of our probing, phone calling, and blogging contributed to the consumer outrage that led retailers to pull BPA-tainted products and state legislators to restrict the use of harmful chemicals in common everyday items. Now,  with today’s introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act, we are a huge step closer to an even safer marketplace.

But don’t celebrate just yet – this bill’s not a panacea. I still foresee the most diligent among us dutifully consulting databases to figure out which products are safe to buy. Incredible, isn’t it?  That’s because the bill regulates the EPA, not the FDA – which regulates 1,4 dioxane, as J&J explains on their website.   And because the bill doesn’t mandate that the EPA look at multiple exposures, as the esteemed National Academy of Sciences has recommended. It just “allows” it to do so.

But for those of us who are still waiting for our simple questions about chemical reform to be answered? Well, today we got some answers. Here’s what I asked and here is the response from Dr. Alan Greene, M.D., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Stanford School of Medicine, author, Raising Baby Green (and every green Mom’s favorite twitter buddy):

OrganicMania: “My readers are particularly interested in probable carcinogenic  compounds like 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde which are commonly used in infant and childrens  baths. Given that there are  80,000 chemicals in the market today – and some of them – like asbestos – are very directly linked to deaths, how likely do you think it is that specific action will be taken against the use of 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde in terms of being classified as most dangerous?”

Dr. Greene “1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde  would meet a a number of the criteria for prioritization. A safety determination will be made early in the process relative to 1,4 dioxane.  Formaldehyde might also get expedited action.”

At that point, Dr. Richard Denison, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund, noted that the FDA has jurisdication over formaldehyde, not the EPA. (But I knew this, thanks to  The Smart Mama.)     As Dr. Denison put it,  “EPA must have authority and the  mandate to look at all uses of chemicals under another agency’s jurisdiction.”

I then went on to ask about multiple, cumulative exposures. Because how are those little babies being exposed to neurotoxins? Its likely through the chemical-laden creams, lotions and potions that the average American woman slathers over her body every day. And as The Smart Mama has blogged, the industry would like us to believe that “just a little bit of carcinogen is okay.

How to tackle that issue? It’s far trickier.  As Maureen Swanson of the  Learning Disabilities Association of America, said, “We would like to see strengthened language that would direct the EPA to go by the National Academy of Science’s   recommendation on looking more closely at cumulative exposures. It is mentioned in the bill, but they are not directed to adopt those recommendations.  How do we enact real reform to make a real difference in our products and in our health risks?..I totally agree..there are a lot of different chemicals which can interfere with the thyroid, and the thyroid gland impacts brain development. It is essential to work on the science, to get stronger language directing EPA to use those recommendations, and to make clear that both versions of the bill define the safety standard and to require they at least take into account aggregate and cumulative exposures. “

Dr. Greene then jumped in to explain, “It’s left to the EPA to flesh out, and there’s no immediate change on that because there’s not science to deal with it {multiple cumulative exposures}. But by requiring the EPA to take those factors into account, we have a structure that moves us forward far beyond where we are now.”

So what can you do?

First, support this bill. It’s the best we’ve got, and it’s the best we’ll get.  Pay attention to the debate raging in the mainstream media and at action sites like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, the Environmental Working Group’s Kid-Safe Blog, and Healthy Child, Healthy World.

And remember, as you start talking up the Safe Chemicals Act, don’t let anyone accuse you of being a hysterical mom. Or you’ll have to answer to:

Tiffany of Nature Moms Jennifer of The Green Parent, Beth of Fake Plastic Fish Katy from Non-Toxic Kids, Micaela from Mindfull Momma, Alicia from The Soft LandingAnna from Green Talk , Christine Gardner of moregreenmomsAlline of Passion for Green Business , Diane from Big Green Purse and one of Glamour Magazine’s 70 Eco Heros,  Jess from The Green Phone Booth,   MaryAnne   at EcoChild’s Play and Not Quite Crunchy Parent, Karen from Best of Mother Earth, Katherine from the Safe Mama, Sommer of Green and Clean Mom, Jennifer aka The Smart Mama, and of course, me, Lynn from OrganicMania.

Oh, J&J? No need to answer those questions now. I got my answers today.

— Lynn

Copyright 2010 OrganicMania

4 Responses to “A First Look at What the New Safe Chemicals Act May Mean for Parents: It Won’t Be an Immediate Panacea”

  1. DrGreene on April 16, 2010 4:10 pm

    Great talking with you on the conference call — and for getting the word out about this important bill and the real health risks that make new chemical rules vital.

    One little point of clarification. The EPA _does_ have the authority to act on formaldehyde — they’re just held to the wrong standard of having to prove harm. They’ve been kind of moving towards it since the asbestos debacle in 1989. Here’s an article with an overview of the history: http://www.propublica.org/feature/how-senator-david-vitter-battled-formaldehyde-link-to-cancer

    One of the reasons I’m excited about this bill is that the standard for chemicals would change to reasonable certainty of no harm — and formaldehyde should move toward the top of the list for assessment. I think it’s likely our fastest path to change here.

    You and Jennifer are quite correct that the FDA regulates personal care products and their ingredients (from among the chemicals allowed in commerce by the EPA). Like the EPA, they could take action now — but it doesn’t look likely to me yet.

  2. I Wilkerson on April 17, 2010 10:40 am

    Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but the expression “you vote with your feet” comes to mind. The changes to organic foods began as a grass roots movement (how many CSAs are actually certified organic?), and I think it is more likely that consumers will drive better body care products as well. But consumers must be ready to do a little background work and pay a little more–just like they still do with food.

  3. Urgent! Tell Congress to Pass Pending Safe Chemicals Act | Green Talk™ on April 20, 2010 6:10 pm

    […] check out Lynn of OrganicMania’s run down about this bill.  Well written and very […]

  4. Lynn on April 23, 2010 7:19 am

    Dr. Greene and I. WIlkersen:

    Thanks so much for your comments, a little glitch with my comment feature prevented me from responding earlier (and a little bit of work with Green My Parents Earth Day launch!!!)

    Thanks for clarifying, Dr. Greene. I have gotten some other feedback from industry that some of the chemicals activists are concerned about are not persistent not bioaccumulative, so the inference is they don’t matter…I’ll follow-up with you via FB message or email as I’d love to get your opinion.

    And I Wilkerson, I used to think people voted with their feet on these issues, but I’ve become less convinced. I thinks there is a huge lack of awareness about the effects of chemicals – and those that are most aware tend to be the most well educated. Is that fair? It’s really a social justice issue.

    I think the next step is for the PR people at agencies and corporations and the research scientists at major consumer products goods companies to start questioning their internal processes and speaking up for truth – something I know many champion. They look to bloggers for leadership in activism, but we can only take it so far. Now that this legislation is on the table, the time really is now!

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