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Re: “A Toothless Law on Toxic Chemicals” in Friday’s NYT (here we go again…)

It happens so often now, maybe we should no longer be appalled at how easily misinformation can become conventional wisdom, or how easily incorrect conventional wisdom can then be treated as fact. Maybe we shouldn’t be – but we are. And you should be, too.

Anyone who has read the New York Times this morning may already know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t paged through the entirety of the today’s edition, you may have missed the editorial about chemical regulation.

The editorial perpetuates a patently false concept – that chemicals go essentially unregulated. Chemicals are regulated by six federal agencies under more than a dozen federal laws. One of those laws is TSCA, the Toxic Substances Control Act.

As we’ve said before, and we’ll say again, TSCA needs to be reformed and modernized. We agree that EPA needs more tools and authority to improve chemical regulation. Unfortunately, this morning’s Times editorial claims that industry does not support reform, which is 100% wrong.    

The Times also repeats the idea that is misreported in almost any story about chemical regulation – that there are 85,000 chemicals and only five have been regulated.

Let’s clear this up once and for all…

First, “85,000” represents all the chemicals that have ever been registered on the TSCA inventory. That inventory includes chemicals that are no longer produced or used, and many duplicate entries. The lack of clarity is a problem — for the EPA, for consumers and for industry.

To fix it, we are advocating as part of TSCA reform that the TSCA Inventory be updated and that EPA implement a straightforward reporting process that will indicate whether a chemical is currently in use, or if it’s not.

Second, EPA can regulate chemicals under three different sections of TSCA. It is true that EPA has used Section 6 to ban a chemical or a specific use of a chemical only 5 times.

But what goes conveniently unmentioned is that EPA has taken regulatory action on chemicals over 2,600 times (and I’m being conservative here, because the EPA’s own website says that they have done so nearly 4,500 times). This doesn’t account for the nearly 2,000 chemicals that have been withdrawn from the approval process before EPA ever took regulatory action.

So… to New York Times and others, please do your homework. Stop peddling misinformation. And to those of you who are genuinely interested in chemical safety, try to resist the urge to just accept the bumper sticker version of this situation.

There’s far more to it than that – and we need your help getting that message out.

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