Research & Commentary: Safe Chemicals Act of 2011

Published December 12, 2011

On November 17, 2011, the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, a bill designed to update the regulatory framework for hazardous chemicals established in the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). TSCA has not been amended since its enactment more than three decades ago.

The new bill’s sponsor, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), argues TSCA’s current framework prevents the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from evaluating the safety of the more than 80,000 chemicals on the EPA’s inventory list. Lautenberg says his bill would provide EPA and citizens with better chemical information, create a structure to prioritize chemicals based on risk, expedite action on chemicals of highest concern, and create a new program to develop and market chemicals that have been identified as safer alternatives to existing products.

Support for the more burdensome parts of this bill has been led by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign, a coalition of advocacy groups. They argue chemical manufacturers should have to prove their products are not harmful, instead of having EPA prove them unsafe. That would place an enormous burden on chemical companies, raise prices for consumers, and hinder innovation.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the trade association representing American chemical companies, calls for TSCA to be updated “to reflect advances in science and technology, as well as today’s public expectations of vigorous government oversight.” As Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, stated, “States do not have the resources to develop 50 individual state chemical management plans across the country.”

State legislative actions addressing this issue have too often been swayed by extreme activist concerns instead of scientific evidence. In the past decade at least 18 states have adopted more than 71 chemical policies, many of which react to public fear instead of sound science. Under the ACC’s guiding principles, regulation would ensure chemicals are safe for intended use, decisions are cost-effective and expeditious, and safety information is made public while protecting intellectual property.

TSCA reform is imperative to maintain consumer safety and to free industry from unnecessarily onerous regulations. Reforms should prioritize chemicals in a transparent manner, protect proprietary information, and lessen the need for states to regulate chemicals and complicate the regulatory environment even further.

The following documents offer additional information about industrial chemical regulation.

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: “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.”

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.”

California Imposes Unprecedented Chemical Restrictions
Heartland Institute contributing writer Kenneth Artz reports on California environmentalists advocating for banning more industrial chemicals. These bans, he reports, are based solely on the principle of precaution, negating any cost-benefit analyses. H. Sterling Burnett of the National Center for Policy Analysis is quoted as saying, “Proponents of the new restrictions make no mention of the fact that it is the dose that causes the harm. Every chemical, even water, can kill you if you consume too much. … I believe that their list can’t be based on science.”

EPA, Greens Keep Harming Children
Heartland Institute Science Director Jay Lehr discusses the use of “protecting the children” as a justification for EPA restrictions on chemicals. Those restrictions, he argues, have unintended adverse effects on children: “Whenever the Environmental Protection Agency or the green movement uses the term ‘it’s for the children’ as a justification for their legislative and regulatory restrictions, it is the children who are the first to suffer.”

A Look Inside the EPA’s Assault on Common Sense
In this article for the Heartlander, Heartland Institute Science Director Jay Lehr describes how EPA has greatly overstepped its original purpose, stifling companies with intrusive compliance burdens based on poor science. He writes, “Forty years ago there was a pressing need for an organization to gather environmental data and distribute it to the states and the public. The EPA filled that role beautifully, raising the nation’s environmental awareness. Unfortunately, the EPA asserted incrementally more power and has unnecessarily strangled innovation and economic output with overly burdensome, often unjustified environmental regulations.”

Stop the Fear Mongering Over Cancer
Writing at, Robert Lichter reveals that despite arguments for greater regulation of synthetic chemicals due to fear of cancer, U.S. cancer incidence and mortality rates have actually fallen. He writes, “The cancer war is back! No, not the war against cancer that President Nixon declared back in 1971. That one never went away. What’s back is the war about cancer—what causes it and what we should do about it. … Maybe it’s time to declare a war against fear mongering on this all too toxic topic.”

The True Story of Cosmetics
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group are promoting the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011, which would ban any ingredient that exceeds a one in a million risk of adverse effects. The questionable new standard would include most synthetic ingredients in use today. Dana Joel Gattuso points out the negative consequences of such a ban: “In fact, these preservatives protect users from bacteria. Present in quantities so small—typically, less than 1 percent of a product’s total weight—they are added to prevent contamination and to protect consumers from the buildup of dangerous bacteria that can cause eye infections, skin rashes, and even deadly infections such as E. coli and Salmonella.”

The Myth of 10-6 as a Definition of Acceptable Risk
A one-in-a-million risk of developing cancer has long been the criterion for environmental legislation as the “acceptable” amount of risk, also known as “10-6.” In this policy document, Kathryn E. Kelly, Dr.P.H., discusses the origins of 10-6 as a standard for many authorities and the effect it has on the economy and on public health. She writes, “despite its widespread use[,] no agencies we contacted could provide documentation on the origins of 10-6; its origin was determined to be a completely arbitrary figure.”

Should EPA Cost-Benefit Analyses Be Conducted by Independent Experts? The GLI as a Case Study
Daniel W. Smith, Ph.D. conducted a case study that tested the general need for review of EPA cost-benefit analyses by experts independent of the EPA. Smith states, “As we approach the new millennium and acknowledge both our progress and our problems in safeguarding the environment, many are calling for new ways of assessing the cost-effectiveness of environmental regulation. Congress is considering several bills that would require risk assessment and cost-benefit analyses of proposed new environmental regulations. Environmental groups have charged that such measures would hamstring environmental regulation, rather than advance cost-effective ecosystem management.”

For further information on this subject, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

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 legislative specialist John Monaghan at [email protected] or Kendall Antekeier at [email protected] or by calling 312/377-4000.