The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was established in 1976 to regulate chemicals in consumer products sold and manufactured in the U.S. The act however is heavily in favor of industry and allows little protection for the consumer. In fact, the EPA has the burden of proving if a chemical is harmful! There are bills being passed through both the House and the Senate this year to reform this outdated act, in an attempt to shift the focus away from industry protection and towards public health and EPA regulation. The reforms, however, are still facing widespread criticism for the testing timelines that have been outlined (such as allowing only ten chemicals to be reviewed per year when there are tens of thousands of untested chemicals on the market). The proposed bills are important to pass in order to update this 40 year old, outdated act, but these updates need to be more explicit in their guarantee for protection of vulnerable populations, the consumer, and public safety, rather than the industries that put toxic substances on the market.
Safe Cosmetics Act
With tens of thousands of toxic substances on the market as ingredients in personal care products and such unregulated standards for the testing/safety of these chemicals, legislation needs to be put in place to protect consumer, worker, and environmental health. The Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act is working to phase out ingredients linked to serious health effects, require full ingredient disclosure, provide funding to the FDA, to provide effective oversight and testing, and put in place protections for salon workers’ health. As a result of the current regulations, salon workers, because of their constant exposure, are at a higher risk for certain types of cancer, immune disorders, miscarriages, and other chronic illnesses. These risks are present for the general public as well, but to a lesser degree because of the difference in exposure. This act would provide the FDA with the resources and funding it needs to remove harmful substances from cosmetics and personal care products and ensure consumer and salon worker safety for the future.
Microbeads are polyethylene or polypropylene microspheres used commonly in personal care products around the globe. In recent years however, awareness is being raised about their impact on health and the environment, particularly in the pollution of waterways. Most wastewater plants are not equipped with the filtration devices to filter out these extremely small microbeads, so they end up in local waterways and have become the number one source of plastics pollution in water bodies like the Great Lakes. To date, nine states and several other counties have already begun to restrict sales of products containing microbeads. The European Union and Canada are working towards broader bans against the products as well, but Norway is the only country thus far to pass a nationwide ban. These sorts of bans influence companies to phase out the use of microbeads in their products and should be encouraged more broadly across the U.S. to stop further pollution of our waterways.
DARK Act (food labeling)
Officially named the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, the DARK Act has been renamed by opponents as Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act. The act preempts state and local authority to label or regulate genetically modified food. Currently in the process of moving through Congress, DARK would negate all past restrictions states and counties in the U.S. have made that require GMO labelling. There is also potential to overturn bans in several counties in Oregon and California that prohibit the crop production of GMOs within county borders. Labelling of non-GMO products will be moved from the independent non-profit, Non-GMO Project to the less rigorous USDA. The DARK Act will also change the definition of the label “natural” to include some genetically modified ingredients, which would not be disclosed on consumer labels. Despite the lack of research on long term health and environmental effects of GMOs, this act is moving quickly through Congress and needs as much opposition as possible to keep it from moving forward.
Green Cleaning in Schools
Schools are places that should be healthy, productive learning environments for students, teachers, and administrators, but many schools in the U.S. still use conventional cleaning products that pollute the air and have negative impacts on students’ health. Many traditional cleaning products contain substances such as fragrance, phthalates, triclosan, and thousands of other chemicals, many of which have not been tested for their safety because of outdated industry standards. Of these substances that have been tested, several common substances, including the ones listed above, are known carcinogens, hormone disruptors, or allergens. These substances should not be allowed in environments where children spend so much of their time. Long term health effects aside, use of these substances in schools has immediate health impacts that effect quality of life and education, such as triggers for asthma, allergies, headaches, and fatigue. Green cleaning uses products that are less harmful to public health and the environment, yet are still effective cleaning agents, to combat this public health issue.