Whitehouse wants to strengthen toxic chemicals law

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The current law that seeks to protect consumers from toxic chemicals in everyday products is disastrously ineffectual, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Wednesday.

The Rhode Island Democrat said that in its 40 years, the Toxic Substances Control Act has restricted just five chemicals of the more than 80,000 that are in commerce, and even failed to ban asbestos.

“That’s not a record of success for the American public,” said Whitehouse, who is pushing for a new bill to update and strengthen the act.

That bill would require safety reviews for all chemicals in commerce, require the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure any new chemicals are safe before they can enter into commerce and set federal standards to provide regulatory certainty for the industry, among other changes.

It has garnered strong support in the Senate. Whitehouse expects it to pass soon.

Several states have tried to regulate these chemicals on their own. The chemical industry wants a national standard rather than state-by-state regulations, which has helped convince Republicans to support changing the law, Whitehouse said.

Rhode Island toy maker Hasbro, Inc., which has called for improvements to the law, hosted an event Wednesday with Whitehouse to celebrate the progress made so far.

Hasbro President and CEO Brian Goldner said the different sets of regulations make it challenging for businesses to sell products nationwide. He said there needs to be a uniform national approach to ensure that products are safe for families in every state.

When the bill passes, Goldner said, “we’ll have made significant strides in protecting families and creating one national standard for safety.”

Richard Denison, the lead senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, said Americans are exposed to thousands of chemicals daily and only a small fraction have been tested for safety. The EPA has been powerless to restrict even chemicals that clearly pose health risks, he added.

The bill gives the EPA the authority to restrict chemicals and a mandate to review them, fixing the problems with the current law and bringing it into the 21st century, Denison said.

“We’re on the verge of a historic accomplishment,” he said.

Whitehouse said there will be money for chemicals testing, which there’s little funding for today.

The House has passed a bill to strengthen the act, but it would regulate chemicals after they’re on the market and not before, Whitehouse said.

The differences between the House and Senate versions would have to be worked out in conference.

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