Congress Considers Tougher Chemical Rules

The bill, introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), would give the Environmental Protection Agency more power to regulate chemicals.

WASHINGTON — Congress is stepping up scrutiny of chemical laws, urging stricter regulations and broader regulatory authority for the Environmental Protection Agency, which could have major implications for beauty and textile companies.

This story first appeared in the April 16, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) introduced a bill Thursday that would overhaul chemical laws and require manufacturers to prove the safety of chemicals.

“EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals, and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe,” Lautenberg said.

The Safe Chemicals Act requires manufacturers to test the safety of all industrial chemicals and puts the burden on the industry to prove that they are safe in order to stay on the market, Lautenberg said. The bill would give the EPA more power to regulate the use of chemicals.

Under current policy, the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces that a chemical is dangerous. Lautenberg said the EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals registered in the U.S. and has only been able to ban five dangerous substances.

“When you are regulating or reregulating an important part of the American economy, it will absolutely have an impact on consumer products,” said Brian Sansoni, vice president of communications and membership for The Soap and Detergent Association. “The question is in what way, and that will be the discussion moving forward.”

Steve Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said one of the big questions is whether the legislation will regulate the chemical manufacturers and chemicals, as opposed to products containing the chemicals.

“The industry wants to make sure that the regulation is done in a manner that is predictable and risk-based and at the federal level instead of the state level,” which is a patchwork of rules, he said.