The Need for Government Reform
While the health care sector can do its part to reduce people's exposure to hazardous chemicals, government policies also must be updated. Due to weak laws, chemical companies do not provide basic health and safety data for the majority of chemicals on the market. Even with clear evidence of harm, it is extremely difficult to stop the use of a chemical.
For stronger public health protections, laws must be changed to require better health data on chemicals, to eliminate the worst chemicals and untested chemicals, to protect communities at highest risk, and to provide incentives for the development of safer chemicals.
Forward-thinking legislators and governments are already moving in this direction.
Reform efforts are underway in the United States. At the federal level, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, which would strengthen the nation’s system for managing chemical safety to better protect human and environmental health.
Over 300 organizations representing millions of Americans have come together to create the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition in support of common sense limits on toxic chemicals. The coalition includes health professionals, parents, advocates for people with learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health advocates, environmentalists, businesses, and many others from across the country. Health Care Without Harm is a founding member of the coalition. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is working closely with Senator Lautenberg to ensure passage of the Safe Chemicals Act.
In 2012, twenty-eight states are considering toxic chemical legislation. Highlights include:
- At least 13 states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, will consider policies to identify and ultimately reduce exposures to chemicals of concern, including prioritizing chemicals for state action and requiring manufacturers of consumer products to disclose the chemicals in their products.
- Oregon will consider legislation requiring the state to reduce toxics through its procurement process.
- Georgia, Massachusetts, and New York are considering policies to improve the safety of cosmetics, including a restriction on the use of formaldehyde.
- At least eight states, including Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, will consider legislation banning specific flame retardants.
- Legislators in other states have introduced individual chemical restrictions, such as lindane in Michigan and perchloroethelyene in Vermont.
For updates on state efforts to reform chemical policies, see the Safer States website.
European Union's REACH
The European Union has adopted a major law that regulates chemicals, called REACH — for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals. REACH requires manufacturers to provide health and safety data for tens of thousands of chemicals, and will move the market toward safer alternatives.
Find more information about REACH from The International Chemical Secretariat.