Why Our Toxic Chemical Standards Are Worse Than Ever

This is a guest post from Sarah Vogel, health program director at the Environmental Defense Fund.

In 1976, you could still buy leaded gasoline; you could smoke on an airplane; and you could still drive with an open beer in most states. And, on this day in 1976, President Gerald Ford signed a law that was meant to make sure the chemicals we use are safe.

Today, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), our main federal chemical law, turns 37-years-old. A lot has changed since 1976, not least of which is our understanding of the health impact of chemicals. We now know that some of the chemicals we’re exposed to every day can cause real problems, ranging from cancer to learning disabilities. Yet we still rely on an ineffective law from the 70s, which has failed to protect us.

Many people think that hazardous chemicals are only found in laboratories and factories. In reality, we are exposed to chemicals on a daily basis through the products we use and the materials that surround us in our homes, schools and workplaces.

There are chemicals you take into or put on your body, usually on purpose: prescription drugs, cosmetics or chemicals added to food, like a sugar substitute or colorant. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with ensuring these chemicals are safe.

But there are many more chemicals you might not pay as much attention to, like chemicals in bottles and cans under your kitchen sink and in the paint on your walls, the varnish on your desk and the foam in your couch. In fact, there are thousands of such chemicals we all encounter every day.

So here’s the problem: Very few of these chemicals have been reviewed to determine if they’re safe, because the 37-year-old law we still operate under doesn’t require it.

TSCA is supposed to regulate the tens of thousands of chemicals like these, but when the law was passed, the chemical industry argued that consumers would not be exposed to potentially toxic chemicals in everyday products, hence they would pose no risk to human health.

We now know better. Many hundreds of these chemicals enter our bodies, not only through food and water, but also through fumes, aerosol sprays and household dust. Studies have linked many of these chemicals to health problems, including asthma, autism, infertility and learning disabilities.

Despite the mounting evidence, only a small fraction of the chemicals being produced or used in the United States have ever been required to be tested. TSCA does not give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority it needs to screen chemicals for safety and appropriately regulate the ones found to be unsafe.

We’ve had six Presidents since Gerald Ford signed the law in 1976, and control of Congress has switched back and forth numerous times between the parties. In that time, no one found time to fix TSCA. After 37 years, the time has come. Congress should pass a chemical law that will protect our families NOW. We can’t afford to wait for another birthday of this decrepit law to come and go.

Sign our letter to Congress here.

Photo provided by: Environmental Defense Fund

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Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brownabout a year ago

thanks for sharing

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra2 years ago

Thank you Environmental Defense Fund, for Sharing this!

Sheila D.
GGmaSheila D.2 years ago

Good news, bad news...Good news is that I can now read the ingredients on products and can choose not to buy those with bad chemicals...Bad news is not all products label things that can harm you and your family, and the ingredient names seem to change so we can't always know what is killing us.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

Posters here have speculated about if the chemical soup we live in leads to more illnesses.

Here's another question. There seems to be an abnormally high number of young men that I describe as "lost souls". They lack motivation to get educated, to get a job, to get a mate.Could this chemical soup be one of the causes?

Lynn C.
Lynn C.2 years ago


Joe M.
Joe Martinez2 years ago

The same party that has shutdown the government GOP, because they're refusing 25 million Americans medical coverage have attempted to disband EPA and actually have in fact rendered it to a great extend powerless to enforce the laws designed to protect our citizens. Big money is protected by the GOP. Powerful lobbyist control lawmakers(MONEY), and once an issue becomes politicized it stalls and forget about the law. This is the reason this 35 year law to establish Toxic Chemical Standards is mute, I admire Care2 for keeping us informed on the potential hazards that face our nation and perhaps getting our citizens united behind this issue will help to overcome the powerful forced that control Washington.

A F.
A F.2 years ago

And with the government shutdown, no FDA! Yay! Even more toxins getting through to us! Gotta love it! NOT!

Thanks for the info, keep fighting the good fight!

sarah jaffe
sarah jaffe2 years ago

Who wants to bet a reevaluation will make raid illegal? I keep trying to tell my friends.. don't use that if its just one bug and it's in your house.. but they are seriously bafflingly dumb and stubborn about using raid on something you can just swat.

Natasha Salgado
Natasha Salgado2 years ago

We as humans are the creators of our ongoing destruction.

Kristin Love
Kristin Love2 years ago

perhaps it's just me, but when the heads of the EPA and the USDA are comprised of former Monsanto Lawyers and Dow Industrial Chemicals CEO's then this is to be expected. the bottom line since, well, about 100 years ago in this country, has been "The Almighty $$$". the entire population is misinformed or not informed at all about how many toxic chemicals we are being exposed to 24/7. here is a trailer that is scarier than any halloween nightmare, worth the 2 minutes, worth way more than that: