Chemical manufacturers would have to produce safety data for their products

A political committee in the US has voted in favour of plans to change the way chemicals are regulated by shifting the burden of proving safety to manufacturers. Under the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, chemical manufacturers would have to produce safety data for their products. They would submit these data to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which would then make decisions about safe use.

The new legislation – which still has a long way to go before becoming law – bears more than a passing resemblance to the Reach  (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) rules, which came into force in the EU in 2007.

In the US, toxic chemicals are currently regulated by the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, under which chemical products are effectively considered safe until found to be otherwise: the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces that demonstrates a chemical is dangerous. Consumer groups have argued that this means only a tiny fraction of chemicals used in the US have been tested for safety.

The American Chemical Council, which represents the interests of the chemical industry in the US, described the bill as ‘fundamentally flawed in many critical areas’. The organisation said that it would lead to an ‘unworkable’ safety standard, drain government resources, increase the time for new chemicals to reach the market and undermine the protection offered by trade secrets.’