How Shoddy Chemical Regulations Hurt U.S. Businesses

I'll bet every single person reading this knows someone suffering from diabetes, thyroid disease, heart disease or cancer; is struggling with trying to conceive a child; or who has a child diagnosed with learning disabilities or autism. These are just a few of the health effects associated with some of the 82,000 chemicals in the marketplace.  

New reports, including from the President's Cancer Panel, identify rising rates of illness linked to chemical exposure. The cost of these health effects is conservatively estimated to be in the range of $50 billion a year, in a report prepared by the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition. These costs have a real-world impact on businesses. 

Due in part because of this cost and other impacts to businesses, Congressmen Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., introduced the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010, to reform the nation's failed toxic chemical laws. Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., introduced a similar bill, the Safe Chemicals Act, earlier this year. The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), whose member organizations represent over 50,000 businesses, applauds this overdue reform for chemical regulations. 

“First and foremost we support Toxic Chemicals Safety Act because it is vital for protecting the health of people and the planet. We also believe it will have important benefits for us as a downstream user of chemicals through greater information and innovation, and as a consumer products company through the restoration of consumer trust in our industry," says Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder, Seventh Generation, an ASBC member.  

Today's astute business leaders are concerned about the health and business impacts that could arise if the products they use or sell contain toxic chemicals. They recognize that safer chemicals protect human and environmental health, cut the costs of regulation, hazardous waste storage and disposal, worker protection, health care costs and future liabilities. Providing safer products can only benefit U.S. businesses, enabling them to open up growing market opportunities, while at the same time doing the right thing for our consumers and our communities.  

Providing safer chemicals and products is a global trend. Key trading partners — the European Union and Canada — are busy at work establishing rules for their marketplaces that protect public health, magnifying the failure of U.S. chemicals policy and placing U.S. businesses in a weakened competitive position. 

In the U.S., most manufacturers don't have access to information about the chemicals used in the components they buy from suppliers, nor do they know whether or not the chemicals are harmful to their customers. Most retailers do not have access to the chemical composition of the products they sell. Businesses need access to information about their materials and products, so that they can be more responsible to consumers. 

The heart of the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act is good for business. But for this legislation to be meaningful, it must include requirements for business-to-business chemical ingredient disclosure across the supply chain, which would enable manufacturers at each step in the supply chain to make informed choices about the toxicity of the materials they purchase.   

“Customer demand for products free of persistent and bioaccumulative toxics (PBTs) is already driving change in how we use chemicals. Safer chemicals reform will level the playing field and promote the use of safer alternatives,” said Howard Williams, vice president, Construction Specialties.  

ASBC also supports the legislation's call for targeted action on persistent, toxic and bioaccumulative chemicals, with support for safer substitutions.

We also support disclosure of prioritized chemical information to consumers. Customers are becoming smarter about spending their money on the safest products possible. Economic growth, often unreported, is occurring as a result of the consumer trends. Multinational glass giant Owens Illinois has reopened a glass baby bottle plant in Michigan and hired workers in Waco, Texas, to respond to the increased consumer demand for glass baby bottles — demand rising because of awareness of health studies about the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) found in some plastic baby bottles. Demand for organic products (read “non-toxic”) of all types is skyrocketing; it is one of the highest growing sectors in our economy. Consumer trends toward safer products are driving the marketplace and this will help in the retention of jobs if not the creation of new jobs. An economy based on safer chemicals can be good for a new economy as well as good for our communities and the environment. 

"Toxic chemical reform is imperative to the environment and human health. When today's babies are recorded with over 200 contaminants in their blood at birth, we know it is time for reform. Yet, we cannot achieve it alone. The public must demand that our legislators and chief policy makers give us the tools that will protect our bodies and the environment. In collaborating in this effort, and banding together with other sustainable businesses, we in turn support our 1,600 farmer owners and their families who choose to farm organically," according to George Siemon, CEO and founding farmer, Organic Valley.

Successful and responsible business owners support a strong Toxic Chemical Safety Act and Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 because they know that it will support innovation and a marketplace with integrity, transparency and safe products, which will give U.S. businesses the competitive advantage. 

ASBC invite chemical manufacturers to work with downstream user businesses and together to help lead the way to new era of safer chemicals in our society. We can begin by supporting strong legislation that will restore consumer confidence in business.   

 

David Levine is co-founder and executive director of the American Sustainable Business Council, a coalition of business networks committed to public policies that support a vibrant, just and sustainable economy. The organizations that have joined in this partnership represent over 50,000 businesses and social enterprises and more than 150,000 entrepreneurs, owners, executives, investors and business professionals and other individuals.

Bottles - CC license by Flickr user hashmil