Policy Documents

Research & Commentary: Michigan Safe Products Act

January 24, 2012

The Safe Children’s Product Act, introduced by Michigan state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), would require Michigan regulators to create a list of so-called “chemicals of concern” in children’s products and require importers and large manufacturers to disclose the presence of these chemicals in children’s products.

In a press release, Warren claims the proposed law “would give Michigan families access to the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions and avoid children’s products that contain harmful chemicals.” Proponents argue states must take action because the federal government has not updated the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Opponents note these laws rely on the “precautionary principle” rather than using established scientific facts in a cost-benefit analysis. (The precautionary principle is the assumption government should take action “just in case,” without scientific proof of any threat to human health or the environment.) This as an open-ended invitation for ever-increasing government power, they say.

Regulating chemicals that pose clear, significant health or environmental risks is justified, but laws of this type passed in Maine and California have gone beyond reasonably protecting people from potentially dangerous chemicals. Instead they have imposed burdensome regulations that stifle economic growth and product innovation while producing little or no public health or environmental benefits. The precautionary principle has led governments to impose draconian carbon dioxide emission restrictions and bans on the use of safe DDT and agricultural biotech.

A sound regulatory environment is a key factor in attracting and retaining businesses. According to the Michigan Chemistry Council, “Chemical companies in our State directly employ over 30,000 people, and indirectly contribute around 100,000 jobs to the economy.” With so much at stake, policymakers should not impose additional regulations unless a problem is reasonably evident and the solution is narrow in scope.

The following documents provide more information about chemical regulations and chemical of concern lists.

Research & Commentary: State Chemicals of Concern Lists
This Heartland Institute Research & Commentary explains how “chemicals of concern” lists are not the most effective and economical way to protect the public from hazardous chemicals. “The threshold for reasonably safe chemical exposure in consumer products varies significantly depending on the amount of chemical used in the product, what the item is used for, and who is in contact with it,” the author notes.

The Chemical Industry in Michigan
This fact sheet from the Michigan Chemistry Council provides statistics on how the chemical industry in Michigan protects the environment and what it contributes to the state’s economy. “The average wage of a chemistry industry employee in Michigan is $76K, which is 27% higher than the average manufacturing wage,” the article notes.

Why Regulate?

Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute, offers a survey of theories of regulation and identifies the effects of regulation on economic growth. “The cost of regulations at all levels in the U.S. is estimated to be more than $1.5 trillion per year,” Bast writes.

Regulating Environmental Hazards
Richard Wilson of the Cato Institute writes in Regulation magazine about the flawed regulation of presumed environmental hazards. He explains, “just as there is no perfectly safe speed for a car, we cannot take it for granted that there is a ‘safe’ threshold of exposure to environmental hazards. By the same token, it is meaningless to strive for ‘no risk’ or perfect safety when it comes to environmental hazards. All we can do is estimate the probability of a chronic effect in a population, then decide whether and how to reduce that probability to an ‘acceptable’ level.”

The Paralyzing Principle
The current administrator of the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass R. Sunstein, documents the problems with the precautionary principle. Sunstein writes, “The Precautionary Principle might well be seen as a plea for a kind of regulatory insurance. Certainly the principle might do some real-world good, spurring us to attend to neglected problems. Nonetheless, the principle cannot be fully defended in those ways, simply because risks are on all sides of social situations. Any effort to be universally precautionary will be paralyzing, forbidding every imaginable step, including no step at all.”

The True Story of Cosmetics: Exposing the Risks of the Smear Campaign
The Competitive Enterprise Institute criticizes unfounded attacks against the use of many cosmetics and hygiene products. The paper concludes, “Instances where consumers have been injured by using a personal care product are minute to nonexistent.”

Chemicals, Regulation, and Real Science

American Enterprise Institute Visiting Fellow John Entine examines the Food and Drug Administration’s 2010 decision not to ban bisphenol A (BPA). The article observes, “we need standards and established systems—objective science—to guide us in weighing the benefits and potential hazards of chemicals, drugs, whatever. But the moment we abandon standards for fashion or under political pressure, no matter how superficially attractive that may seem to be, we place in danger the entire system of checks and balances.”

Comments by the Green Chemistry Alliance—Safer Alternatives Regulations

The Green Chemistry Alliance, which represents the trade associations and organizations of California’s largest employers, responds to the Safer Alternatives draft regulation, warning, “Although the impending draft regulation will be just that—a draft—the details are critical and could have sweeping ramifications on virtually all industry sectors which manufacture or sell consumer products in the state.”

The Environmental Source: Chemical Risk Overview
The Competitive Enterprise Institute analyzes the current state of chemical risks, noting that even though people are living longer, unfounded fears of manmade chemicals are common: “Ignoring that nature produces far more chemicals at far higher doses and that most chemicals are innocuous at low doses, activists capitalize on those fears. They scare the public by hyping the risks to ensure that the government passes volumes of laws and regulations focused on eliminating chemicals without much regard for the tradeoffs.”

For further information on this subject, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at http://news.heartland.org/energy-and-environment, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at http://www.heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.

Nothing in this message is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. If you have any questions about this issue or the Heartland Web site, you may contact Heartland’s director of government relations John Nothdurft at jnothdurft@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.