Why Current Regulations Aren't Enough

Aren’t we already protected from chemicals by OSHA regulations and NIOSH recommendations?

No. The OSHA PELs and NIOSH RELs are based on science that is 40 years old and out of date. The labor movement, the environmental movement, and their allies have tried to convince Congress and the courts to give OSHA, NIOSH and EPA the authority to modernize and strengthen their agencies' effort to protect worker health using the latest science. But, to date, Congress hasn’t been willing to add new protections for workers’ and the public’s health.

Additionally, the process for developing and adopting an OSHA standard takes a very long time. For example, Silicosis has been an area of focus for occupational health advocates and the US Department of Labor since the 1930's, but a protective standard wasn't implemented until the mid-2010's. 

While the federal programs that are supposed to protect us stay lost in the 1970s, every day, another study adds to what we already know about how chemicals can harm human health. Over the last 25 years, new science has shown that chemical exposures, often at levels once considered ‘safe,” can interfere with our bodies’ ability to stay healthy. Rising rates of asthma, learning disabilities, childhood cancers, breast cancer, prostate cancer, impaired fertility, and birth defects have all been linked to chemical exposures.

Despite rising disease rates, the chemicals management law in the United States, the Toxics Substances Control Act, or TSCA, does not require that companies demonstrate that their chemicals are safe before they can be sold.

Most of that problem comes from when Congress passed TSCA in 1976, the law grandfathered in all of the chemicals in use at that time – 62,000 in all. All of these chemicals were assumed to be safe without any evidence. Since the 1970s, 22,000 more chemicals have been added to EPA’s list of registered industrial chemicals. EPA encourages companies to turn in any studies they have on the chemicals they want to begin to manufacture. But, unlike the chemical policies of other countries, TSCA does not give EPA the power to require that studies be done, The result of this weak chemicals policy is that 67% of Pre-Manufacture Notices (PMNs) contain no test data, and 85% of PMNs contain no health data.

In May, 2011 the BlueGreen Alliance released a new study that shows that TSCA reform can support job creation in the U.S. chemical industry while protecting public health and the environment. The study, produced by the Political Economy Research Institute and commissioned by the BlueGreen Alliance, shows that innovation in sustainable chemistry can reverse the industry’s job shedding trend in a market that increasingly requires cleaner, safer production.

This report titled The Economic Benefits of a Green Chemical Industry in the United States: Renewing Manufacturing Jobs While Protecting Health and the Environment demonstrates that the U.S. chemical industry shed 300,000 jobs since 1992, despite production increasing by 4 percent per year. Under the current scenario, the industry stands to lose an additional 230,000 jobs in the next 20 years. But contrary to arguments that chemical policy reform will cost jobs and stifle innovation, the report demonstrates that innovation in sustainable chemistry presents new opportunities to reverse the job shedding trend. For example, if 20 percent of current production were to shift from petrochemical-based plastics to bio-based plastics, 104,000 additional jobs could be created in the U.S. economy.