Disclosing toxic chemicals

Toxic chemicals present another set of poorly understood risks that can have serious health and environmental consequences. Chemicals policy reform can help us deal with those risks.

Businesses do not always have open access to the information needed to make responsible decisions concerning chemical ingredients in products. That places American business at a global disadvantage because we lack the ability to assess the economic and health risks posed by many of the chemicals we use in our products. It is important to know information on the hazards of chemicals used in products and the availability of safer, greener alternatives.

Our company, Construction Specialties, designs and manufactures specialty products for buildings. We aim to lower the environmental impact of the buildings that use our products and to do business in environmentally conscious way whenever possible. Yet we are often challenged in meeting these goals by the lack of toxicity data on chemicals and the lack of transparency on the chemicals in the materials we purchase.

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Our country's current system for managing toxic chemicals, under the 37-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), has failed to legislatively promote the use of safer alternatives to toxic chemicals. The recently introduced bi-partisan Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) intends to bring crucial and necessary reforms to TSCA, in part by requiring comprehensive safety data on all chemicals in commerce. CSIA needs alteration to ensure that necessary measures are in place to identify and restrict chemicals of concern to protect human and environmental health.

CSIA needs to emphasize taking action on chemicals of greatest concern for human health and environment, such as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals. The regulatory focus needs to be on identifying and restricting chemicals of concern. And states must retain the right to take action on chemicals of concern to human health and the environment above and beyond regulations set by the federal government.

The legislation also contains measures to protect Confidential Business Information (CBI), but these protections must not come at the expense of health and safety concerns. Legitimate CBI claims should be recognized and upheld, but these claims need to undergo a renewal process in order to maintain a level of transparency necessary to encourage the sharing of information.

Chemicals policy reform, if done well, will support the market's movement to safer, greener alternatives to toxic chemicals. This is an opportunity for Congress and companies to improve Americans' health and their environment, in ways that help secure America’s global competitive advantage.

Restricting the use of toxic chemicals does not equate to restricting the U.S. economy. Studies show the demand for safer products continues to increase, and that demand spurs innovation.

By incorporating needed changes into the bill Congress will give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the regulatory authority it needs to restrict toxic chemicals and protect public health and the environment.

Williams is vice president of Construction Specialties, with locations in Muncy, Pa., and Cranford, N.J..

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