Pharos Today, TSCA reform tomorrow

Paul Bogart | April 15, 2010

While many consumers are increasingly worried about the safety of products from baby bottles to building materials, most are unaware that only a few hundred of the approximately 80,000 chemicals in commerce have been tested for safety.

With the declaration that "America's system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken," Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced a bill today that would represent a sea change in the way chemicals are tested and managed.

If passed, the "Safe Chemicals Act" represents the first revision of the Toxic Substances Control Act since its passage more than three decades ago. Under the bill, U.S. EPA would be given broad new authorities to target chemicals of concern and to regulate new and existing chemicals.

While the "Safe Chemicals Act" has only been introduced, and passage in its current form will require it to weather a steady assault from chemical industry lobbyists; it is clear that things are going to change. On that much, environmental health advocates and chemical industry executives agree.

Both understand that no one is served by the current system that engenders consumer distrust and market uncertainty when, for example, a builder finds out that the LEED platinum building he finished yesterday is loaded with tomorrow's hormone-disrupting chemical of concern.

Within this atmosphere of uncertainty, and grounded only in the knowledge that things are about to change, the need for the Pharos Project is even more apparent. Builders and architects may not be able to predict the future, but they can access the best information available today, including thousands of commonly-used chemicals referenced against dozens of authoritative lists compiled by national and international expert bodies. In fact, much of the same science and data that will be used to craft the next generation of chemicals regulations is already organized within the Pharos database. The EPA's Chemicals of Concern are included and can be filtered to find building products that don't contain them.

Obviously, the Pharos Project isn't a crystal ball, but users will feel a lot better knowing they are not making their decisions based on a regulation that is rooted in the past.