Original Sources: 84,000 Legal Chemicals. Fewer Than 200 Tested. Only 5 Ever Banned. Here’s Where Those Numbers Come From

The U.S. government allows more than 84,000 chemical compounds of unknown toxicity to be legally used in food, beverages, packaging, clothing, fabrics, personal care products, cosmetics — in any part of your environment including the air, water, or soil.

Unattributed variations of that number  — usually ranging from 60,000 to 80,000 — seem illogical and not-quite credible, and yet are regularly cited in newspapers, online and elsewhere without attribution.

Here at Stealth Syndromes, we detest unattributed information, or information credited to unqualified sources or those with conflicts of interest. The best source is the original source or a peer-reviewed study citing original sources.

The U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976

The U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 (Public Law 94-469) gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA or EPA) the authority to require reporting, record-keeping, and testing relating to chemical substances. This law requires the EPA to create an inventory of all chemical substances manufactured or in use in the United States regardless of toxicity.

Some substances —  food, drugs, cosmetics, and pesticides — were excluded because other laws regulate these chemicals.

Where Does The 60,000 to 80,000+ Number Come From?

The first assessment of how many chemicals there were came from the EPA and they named 30,000 chemicals in this “Candidate List” that was completed in 1977. That has been updated continually as new chemical compounds are invented.

By 2006, A General Accounting Office (GAO) Study found that the EPA’s inventory list contained 62,000 chemicals  The full GAO study can be found at this link:  “Actions are Needed to Improve the Effectiveness of EPA’s Chemical Review Program.

Significantly, that study noted that, “EPA has used its authorities to require testing of fewer than 200 of the 62,000 chemicals in commerce when EPA began reviewing chemicals under TSCA in 1979.”

In addition to that finding, the GAO stated that:

“EPA has rarely banned, limited the production, or restricted the use of existing chemicals. Since the Congress enacted TSCA in 1976, EPA has issued regulations under the act to ban or limit the production or restrict the use of only five existing chemicals or chemical classes.”

Those chemicals were: Asbestos, Chlorofluorocarbons, Dioxin, Hexavalent Chromium, and PolyChlorinatedBiphenols (PCB).

According to background on the EPA’s TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory web site there were 84,000 chemicals in the inventory when that web page was last updated:  3/13/2014.

Major Differences Between U.S. Regulation And Tougher European Standards

The following is an excerpt from a peer-reviewed study funded by the National Institutes of Health by a group of scientists concerned about the TSCA from the standpoint of drinking water — a major source of chemical contamination for most people.

A link to the full study (available for free) can be found here: Future Challenges to Protecting Public Health from Drinking-Water Contaminants.

The following is a series of direct quotes from that study. Edits, for clarity, are contained in [brackets].

“There are major differences between the European approach to addressing chemical manufacture and the U.S. approach:

“(a) [European] Manufacturers are required to develop toxicity information on chemicals’ effects in the REACH program, whereas [U.S.] manufacturers develop this information only if USEPA rule-making requires it under TSCA;

“(b) [In Europe] the burden of proof of safety for a chemical resides with the manufacturer in REACH, whereas  the burden of proof that a chemical is not safe resides with the USEPA per the TSCA;

“(c) [European] regulators may, at any time, require manufacturers to supply additional toxicity information under REACH, whereas [in the U.S.] the USEPA must demonstrate that data are needed before requiring new testing and relies on existing available information for decision-making according to the TSCA.

“A major limitation of the TSCA is that it does not adequately address existing chemicals. Implementation of all aspects of the TSCA for existing chemicals has been incomplete and difficult. The environmental impact of persistent chemicals such as PFCs is not included at all in the TSCA regulations, and the emerging contaminant policy is fragmented at best. To control chemicals at the manufacturing stage in the United States, more incentives to consider safer alternatives and more toxicity information on existing and new chemicals are needed.”


Further reading

Environ Health Perspect. Dec 2006; 114(12): A706–A709. 
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