Durbin Calls for Passage of Safe Chemicals Act

Chicago Tribune Series Shows Need for Greater EPA Authority to Protect Consumers from Toxic Chemicals

[CHICAGO, IL] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today called for Senate passage of legislation that would overhaul an antiquated law that has left American families exposed to dangerous toxic chemicals included in everyday household products and furnishings and given the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) little recourse against the aggressive chemical companies that have exploited the lack of oversight.


“The U.S. EPA, wittingly or unwittingly, has allowed the manufacturers of toxic chemicals to flood American households with substances that abundant scientific evidence finds harmful.  The Chicago Tribune series published this week reveals that flame retardant chemicals added to furniture and other household goods are not only useless, but also toxic for our families – especially young children.  The disturbing truth is that flame retardants are only one example of the many toxic substances that have made their way into American homes as a result of self-serving chemical companies and the weak, ineffective federal law that has regulated chemical safety standards since 1976.  We have to come together on a bipartisan basis to pass the Safe Chemicals Act and provide Illinois families with the basic level of safety they expect,” said Durbin.


A Chicago Tribune series published this week uncovered flawed testing, products that don’t work, unscrupulous “experts,” shoddy science and stalled government reform.  In response, Durbin sent a letter to the EPA asking the agency to identify what tools and authorities it needs to assure safety.  The Senator also wrote letters to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) pressing the agency to finalize an update flammability standard proposed in 2008, and to Underwriter Laboratories requesting assistance in understanding the effectiveness of the chemicals and what fire safety measures can be taken for furniture.


Durbin called on his colleagues to pass the Safe Chemicals Act, which would update and modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976--- a law he called “antiquated and ineffective.”  The law desperately needs to be reformed to reflect changes in chemical use and production, as well as knowledge gained about the health and environmental effects of chemicals in the past 35 years.   


Unlike pharmaceuticals, chemicals are currently presumed safe until proven harmful.  The Safe Chemicals Act would change that by holding chemical companies responsible for demonstrating the safety of their products before they go on the market. 


The bill would also empower EPA to institute a risk-based safety evaluation of all chemicals.  Currently, the EPA is only able to call for safety testing after evidence arises indicating the danger of a chemical already on the market.  As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances. The proposed legislation will give EPA more power to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals and require manufacturers to submit information proving the safety of every chemical in production and any new chemical seeking to enter the market.


To protect Americans from the risk of exposure to toxic chemicals, the bill would also:


  • Require chemical companies to submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce;
  • Establish a public database to provide the public with information submitted by chemical companies and the EPA’s safety determinations; and
  • Direct the EPA to prioritize chemicals into three classes based on risk.  While all chemicals are reviewed for safety, this prioritization allows the EPA to focus its resources on the chemicals most likely to cause harm.


Durbin said he intends to send a letter to his colleagues in the Senate drawing their attention to the Chicago Tribune’s findings and urging them to support the Safe Chemicals Act.