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We need TSCA reform now

There are lots of great things about California—amazing beaches, expansive parks, Hollywood, and Disneyland. But it’s not all surfing and celebrity-watching. Just like you wouldn’t want California’s earthquakes shaking your hometown, you don’t want California’s ridiculous chemical labeling law wrecking your state’s economy. 

Which is why we need a common sense update to our federal chemical law—and fast. 

{mosads}Back in 1986, California voters passed Proposition 65, which required state regulators to make a list of chemicals that might cause one excess case of cancer in 100,000 people over 70 years and chemicals that might cause reproductive harm. Any business that uses those chemicals is required to post a warning sign or put a label on the chemical-containing product. 

Fast forward almost 30 years and the state has listed nearly 900 chemicals, but research shows the law has had no effect on reducing state cancer rates. 

Instead, California business owners (along with businesses based around the world) have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and attorneys’ fees to “bounty hunters” that scour the state looking for products that contain chemicals on the state’s warning list. 

The threshold for when a Proposition 65 warning sign is legally required is so low that even coffee chains such as Starbucks are forced to warn customers about cancer risks from coffee. A chemical called acrylamide forms naturally when coffee beans are roasted, and when given in very high doses to rats it may cause cancer. 

The signs don’t mention that you’d have to drink around 100 cups of coffee a day before you need to start worrying about acrylamide exposure. Of course, if you’re drinking that much coffee, you’ve got a lot of other health problems to worry about before acrylamide exposure. 

So why should non-Californians care about our crazy chemical warning law? 

California’s Proposition 65 has been forcing manufacturers to reformulate or place warning labels on their products for decades. Imagine the regulatory nightmare if instead of complying with one federal (or California) standard for products, manufacturers had to comply with a different law in every single state. 

Unfortunately, that nightmare could easily become reality. 

Since Congress hasn’t updated our federal chemical law—the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976—in nearly four decades, states have increasingly taken chemical regulation into their own hands. They’ve considered roughly 170 different bills to regulate chemicals, following in California’s wandering footsteps.  

It’s a truly worrying trend. If my state’s experience is a predictor, businesses will simply stop selling products in states where they have to meet a separate chemical standard. While small businesses will certainly have trouble manufacturing their products to meet various state standards, even huge companies such as Dunkin Donuts have suspended selling their products in California because of Proposition 65. 

Luckily, there is a way to stem this tide. 

New legislation introduced by Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) is a bipartisan effort to strengthen our national chemical law by giving the Environmental Protection Agency more tools to regulate chemicals on the federal level. And while the proposal will allow California to keep Proposition 65 in place, it would prevent other states from creating their own wonky chemical laws that conflict with federal standards. 

Regulating chemicals is clearly Congress’ job; few manufactured goods are sold only within state lines. As part of its powers under the Interstate Commerce Clause, Congress has the responsibility to set strong federal standards for chemicals in consumer products, ensuring consumers around the country are safe. 

Consumers don’t need to see warning labels telling them their morning coffee, evening glass of wine, or even their flip flops might pose a health risk. They need confidence that the products they use and consume everyday meet strong federal chemical safety standards that actually keep their families safe. 

California has a lot to offer, but a roadmap on smart chemical regulation isn’t one of them.

Musella is chairman of the California Chapter of Log Cabin Republicans.

Tags David Vitter Tom Udall

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