For the first time in 40 years, the federal government is changing the way it regulates toxic chemicals. The new chemical safety act will overhaul a 1970's-era law by giving the Environmental Protection Agency more oversight.
U.S. Senator Tom Udall, who sponsored the bill, says New Mexicans don’t have any local oversight of dangerous chemicals in household products, which leaves people here especially vulnerable.
UDALL: Every day people go to the grocery store, they go to the hardware store, and they think that someone has tested the products that they purchase. What they need to understand is, up until when this bill’s signed, there’s nobody doing it at the federal level. I really believe that this is goig to have very wide impact.
Hundreds of chemicals are in our daily lives—flame retardants in our furniture, formaldehyde in carpets, non-stick coating on pots and pans, chemicals in scented candles. We are living in kind of a toxic soup, and so what we need to do is have a top agency looking at these.
KUNM: And the top agency in this case is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This new law has a focus on protecting vulnerable populations like children or pregnant women. How would that work?
UDALL: We have now written a bill that says you need to target the most vulnerable people in terms of coming up with your health and safety standards. So they need to look at the impact on pregnant women, infants, the elderly and workers exposed to chemicals on the job. All of those people particularly at risk.
Americans have to wonder what these chemicals are doing to our health and environment, and that’s why passing this bill, which is now heading for the president—he’s going to sign it—is such a major action. Because it puts this agency back in control and able to protect families and children.
KUNM: There’s a campaign in New Mexico to keep toxic products out of dollar stores, where things like children’s toys have been found to have dangerous chemicals in them. But many of those products are imported from places like say, China, and the EPA doesn’t have any jurisdiction overseas. So how is this going to keep us safe from products coming in from elsewhere?
UDALL: If you have strong regulations here, what ends up happening is that countries all around the world look at that. We will be probably doing a lot of what Europe has done on chemicals for quite a while. And so you’ll have the major developed countries in the world having a set of standards. I think even if it’s not in those particular countries, the countries will obey those standards and the products will rise to the level of safety indicated in the United States and Europe.
KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation and the McCune Charitable Foundation.