Skip to main content

Are toxic chemicals putting your family at risk?

By Frank R. Lautenberg, Special to CNN
May 31, 2012 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
Chemicals found in ordinary furniture are putting our children's health at risk, says Senator Lautenberg.
Chemicals found in ordinary furniture are putting our children's health at risk, says Senator Lautenberg.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sen. Frank Lautenberg: Congress needs to fix our outdated toxic chemicals law
  • He says ordinary products such as cribs and couches contain dangerous chemicals
  • Lautenberg: My Safe Chemicals Act can help reduce the health risks for Americans
  • Lobbyists are fighting reform, but we cannot accept inaction any longer, says Lautenberg

Editor's note: Frank R. Lautenberg is a Democratic senator from New Jersey.

(CNN) -- Imagine if every time you went to the pharmacy, shopping for medications was a complete guessing game. What if drug makers weren't required to disclose ingredients in their products or prove their safety, leaving you without a way to determine whether what you're buying is safe for you and your family? You would live in fear that the medicine you purchased to make your child feel better could actually harm them.

It's a frightening scenario, and one that we would never accept.

Yet, because of our outdated and broken toxic chemicals law, that is precisely the situation with the consumer products we use every day. These products -- from baby bottles and shampoo to car seats and sofas -- contain tens of thousands of untested chemicals.

Frank R. Lautenberg
Frank R. Lautenberg

Last week, I joined with hundreds of moms from across the country to sound the alarm and call on Congress to fix this broken law. These parents came to Washington because they're worried that the chemicals found in these ordinary products are putting their families' health at risk.

They're right to worry, because in recent studies, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 212 industrial chemicals -- including six cancer-causing chemicals -- coursing through Americans' bodies. In essence, the American public has become a living, breathing repository for toxic chemical substances.

These chemicals have been linked to numerous diseases. Studies show as much as 5% of childhood cancers, 10% of neurobehavioral disorders and 30% of childhood asthma cases are associated with hazardous chemicals.

Debating ban on BPA in food
Behavior problems in BPA-exposed girls

The existing law that regulates chemical safety, the Toxic Substances Control Act, was written in the 1970s and is ineffective and outdated.

In nearly 35 years, it has allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to require testing of only 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals in its inventory. What's more, EPA has been able to ban only five substances. The law is so broken that when EPA tried to ban uses of asbestos, a known cancer-causing chemical, its rules were overturned in court.

This status quo is dangerous and unacceptable.

That's why I've introduced a bill called the Safe Chemicals Act, which simply requires that chemical makers prove their chemicals are safe before they end up in our products and bodies. It would ensure that chemicals are tested and that those deemed dangerous are taken off the market.

But sadly, some chemical companies and their lobbyists are fighting reform at every turn.

Just recently, the Chicago Tribune exposed a concerted effort by some chemical companies to use dirty tricks and junk science to mislead the public about the dangers of their products. The report detailed how industry bankrolled experts who testified with fake stories, all in an effort to protect the health of their profits instead of the health of our families and children.

They've specifically fought to protect flame retardant chemicals such as chlorinated Tris, which is so dangerous that companies voluntarily stopped using it in children's pajamas more than 30 years ago.

But while scientists have warned us about chemicals such as chlorinated Tris since the 1970s, they continue to be used in products all around us, including furniture, cribs, mattresses and high-chair cushions.

Now, let's be clear: The Safe Chemicals Act is not an attack on chemicals. Chemicals are used in hundreds of useful products, and most of the thousands of chemicals we use everyday are safe. But we need to be able to separate the safe from the dangerous. Under our current law, we can't do that. That's what this bill fixes.

The chemical industry's lobbyists argue that the cost of testing all these chemicals would be too high. But what is the cost of our children's health?

For three years, I've invited input from all sides of this issue, including the chemical industry. But despite claims of interest in reform, industry lobbyists are refusing to offer concrete suggestions and trying to run out the clock on our efforts.

We cannot accept inaction any longer. It is time to come together to finally fix this law and protect our families from toxic chemicals once and for all.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frank R. Lautenberg.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT