Unfinished Business On Chemical Safety

In June, President Obama signed landmark legislation--the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act--to ensure the safety of commercial chemicals found in countless everyday products from furniture to clothing to cleaning supplies.

The bill requires safety findings for any new chemicals before they're allowed to be used in consumer goods, updating the Toxic Substances Control Act.

This law--the country's most significant chemical-safety law--had not been updated since 1976.

However, there is a glaring gap in this law. It does not cover the thousands of personal care products on the market, including lotion, make-up, shampoo, shaving cream and perfume. Americans all of ages use these products every day.

These ingredients fall under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, not the Environmental Protection Agency. The law governing their safety--the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act--has not been updated since 1938.

The products on the market today are much different than those on the market in 1938. Our laws need an urgent update to ensure personal care products are safe and provide industry with rules of the road.

Due to these outdated safety rules, the FDA has prohibited or restricted only 11 substances, including mercury and chloroform, from use in personal care products. By contrast, the European Union has banned more than 1,300 chemicals from personal care products and restricted an additional 256.

The FDA is also unable to set limits on the concentration levels of chemicals in products.

The ingredient lists that appear on packaging don't have to be posted online. The FDA doesn't even have mandatory recall authority for products that may cause serious harm.

Many companies have voluntarily taken action to make the industry safer by eliminating or reducing the use of certain ingredients but a uniform safety standard is needed.

The Personal Care Products Safety Act would finally address these glaring safety loopholes. Consumer and health groups, including the Environmental Working Group, Endocrine Society and Good Housekeeping Institute, and a wide range of companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, L'Oreal and Revlon support the bill. This marks the first time federal legislation on this issue has earned the support of both consumer and industry groups.

A key component of the bill is an FDA review process for ingredients frequently used personal care products. FDA would review at least five chemicals per year, chosen based on input from consumers, medical professionals, scientists and companies.

An ingredient-review process is already in place in the European Union and companies are required to use only pre-approved colors and preservatives.

This process would address whether chemicals can continue to be used in personal care products, and if so, what the concentration limits should be.

FDA may determine that some chemicals, particularly endocrine disrupting chemicals, are not appropriate in any products, or are only appropriate in small amounts.

The key for many chemicals may be how much is used. We need to know at what concentration these chemicals are unsafe.

For example, after conducting a scientific review, the FDA may determine that a particular chemical is only safe at a concentration of one part per million. Going forward, all companies would need to reformulate their products so they contained no more than one part per million of that ingredient.

Companies would still have the power to adopt a stricter standard. They could use less of a particular ingredient, or not use certain ingredients at all, but the ingredient review process would finally create a uniform safety standard.

The bill would also require companies to register with FDA and provide a list of their ingredients with a range of concentration for each one.

Warning labels would be required for products not appropriate for children, and complete label information, including ingredients and product warnings, would be posted online to ensure parents can make informed decisions.

Lastly, FDA would be given the authority to recall products that cause serious harm.

These commonsense proposals are long overdue and the bill has the broad, bipartisan support needed to move forward. Consumers deserve to know that the products they and their families use every day are safe.