The new chemical safety law gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more authority to regulate hazardous chemicals in consumer products. However, with thousands of chemicals on the market, most of which were never tested for safety, which should the EPA review first?
The Environmental Working Group released a list of chemicals on Thursday that it recommends the EPA should act quickly on. It includes chemicals in products Americans use every day – detergents and household cleaners, clothes, mattresses, furniture, toys, and kids’ jewelry.
“After decades of stagnation, the EPA can now ban or restrict the use of toxic chemicals, and order companies to conduct safety testing when more information is needed,” said EWG Senior Scientist David Andrews. “It's important that the agency act promptly to eliminate or reduce Americans’ exposure to industrial compounds linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption, and other health problems.”
Andrews said for many chemicals on the list, action is overdue. For example, many Americans believe asbestos – a carcinogen that claims 12,000 to 15,000 lives each year – was banned decades ago, as 55 other nations have done. However, U.S. industry still imports, uses, and sells asbestos and asbestos products, including automobile brake pads and clutches, vinyl tile, and roofing materials.
The EPA has placed 90 chemicals known to cause health risks on a list called the TSCA Work Plan.
“The work plan list represents opportunities for assessment and regulation where EPA action is overdue,” said EWG Senior Scientist Johanna Congleton. “In some cases, such as with some kinds of flame retardants, the initial EPA review was hindered by the lack of safety and exposure data. The EPA must now use its expanded authority to fill in these critical information gaps.”
EWG scientists reviewed the chemicals on the work plan, analyzed studies by U.S. and international researchers, and consulted specialists in environmental health. They considered each chemical’s health risks, how widely Americans are exposed to it, and the likelihood of EPA action under the new law.
Here are the 10 chemicals EWG urges the EPA to review and regulate as soon as possible.
1. Asbestos. The cancer-causing substance is still found in automobile brake pads and clutches, vinyl tiles, and roofing materials. While some uses have been banned since 1989, no new risk assessment is scheduled.
2. PERC. This probable carcinogen appears in dry-cleaning fluid, spot removers, and water repellents.
3. Phthalates. These chemicals are linked to early puberty in girls and other reproductive harms. They show up in PVC plastic, toys, and plastic wrap.
4. BPA. This carcinogen is linked to infertility, developmental risks, and diabetes. BPA is used in food cans and other food containers, as well as cash register receipts.
5. Chlorinated phosphate fire retardants. These chemicals are found in upholstered furniture, foam cushions, baby car seats, and insulation. They’re linked to possible nerve and brain damage.
6. TBBPA and related chemicals. These potential carcinogens and endocrine disruptors are seen in electronics, auto parts, and appliances.
7. Brominated phthalate fire retardants. These chemicals are linked to developmental toxicity and appear in polyurethane foam for furniture and baby products.
8. 1-Bromopropane. This probable carcinogen is used in aerosol cleaners and adhesives and is linked to reproductive harm.
9. DEHA. This probable carcinogen is found in plastic wrap and PVC plastic. It’s also linked to developmental toxicity.
10. P-dichlorobenzene. This probable carcinogen is detected in mothballs and deodorant blocks. It’s linked to liver and nerve damage.