Regulating Toxic Chemicals

July 18, 2014 • Volume 24, Issue 26
Do hazardous substances need stricter oversight?
By Jennifer Weeks


Fire rages at the Magnablend chemical processing plant in Waxahachie (Getty Images/Tom Pennington)
Fire rages at the Magnablend chemical processing plant in Waxahachie, Texas, on Oct. 3, 2011. More than 1,000 people living near the facility were evacuated to avoid possibly dangerous fumes, but there were no deaths or injuries. Federal inspectors fined the company $45,000 for seven serious safety violations. (Getty Images/Tom Pennington)

After a leak from a chemical storage tank contaminated the Charleston, W. Va., water supply this year, many experts contended that U.S. chemical plants and refineries need stricter regulation. But industry representatives assert that chemical companies have an excellent safety record and that government should focus on helping all companies comply with existing regulations. The West Virginia incident revealed lax state enforcement of federal laws designed to protect the nation's waterways from chemical contamination. Current law assumes that the thousands of chemicals widely used in commerce are safe unless the government shows otherwise. The approach puts the burden of proof on regulators, who have banned only five toxic chemicals in nearly 40 years. Health and environmental advocates want a more precautionary approach, similar to Europe's policy, in which manufacturers must show that chemicals introduced to the market can be used safely. Meanwhile, scientists are finding new evidence that some potentially harmful industrial chemicals are more widespread throughout the environment than previously thought.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Environmental Protection
Dec. 02, 2016  Arctic Development
Apr. 22, 2016  Managing Western Lands
Jul. 18, 2014  Regulating Toxic Chemicals
Sep. 20, 2013  Future of the Arctic
Jun. 14, 2013  Climate Change
Nov. 06, 2012  Vanishing Biodiversity
Nov. 02, 2012  Managing Wildfires
Nov. 04, 2011  Managing Public Lands
Aug. 26, 2011  Gulf Coast Restoration
Jul. 2010  Plastic Pollution
Feb. 2010  Climate Change
Jan. 09, 2009  Confronting Warming
Dec. 05, 2008  Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Nov. 2008  Carbon Trading
Oct. 03, 2008  Protecting Wetlands
Feb. 29, 2008  Buying Green
Dec. 14, 2007  Future of Recycling
Nov. 30, 2007  Disappearing Species
Feb. 2007  Curbing Climate Change
Dec. 01, 2006  The New Environmentalism
Jan. 27, 2006  Climate Change
Oct. 25, 2002  Bush and the Environment
Oct. 05, 2001  Invasive Species
Nov. 05, 1999  Saving Open Spaces
Jun. 11, 1999  Saving the Rain Forests
May 21, 1999  Setting Environmental Priorities
Mar. 19, 1999  Partisan Politics
Oct. 16, 1998  National Forests
Jun. 19, 1998  Environmental Justice
Aug. 23, 1996  Cleaning Up Hazardous Wastes
Mar. 31, 1995  Environmental Movement at 25
Jun. 19, 1992  Lead Poisoning
May 15, 1992  Jobs Vs. Environment
Jan. 17, 1992  Oil Spills
Sep. 20, 1991  Saving the Forests
Apr. 26, 1991  Electromagnetic Fields: Are They Dangerous?
Sep. 08, 1989  Free Market Environmental Protection
Dec. 09, 1988  Setting Environmental Priorities
Jul. 29, 1988  Living with Hazardous Wastes
Dec. 20, 1985  Requiem for Rain Forests?
Aug. 17, 1984  Protecting the Wilderness
Jun. 15, 1984  Troubled Ocean Fisheries
Aug. 19, 1983  America's Disappearing Wetlands
Feb. 22, 1980  Noise Control
Nov. 16, 1979  Closing the Environmental Decade
Oct. 13, 1978  Toxic Substance Control
Feb. 27, 1976  Pollution Control: Costs and Benefits
Nov. 28, 1975  Forest Policy
May 30, 1975  Wilderness Preservation
Dec. 20, 1974  Environmental Policy
Nov. 14, 1973  Strip Mining
Dec. 01, 1971  Global Pollution
Jul. 21, 1971  Protection of the Countryside
Jan. 06, 1971  Pollution Technology
Jun. 19, 1968  Protection of the Environment
Oct. 30, 1963  Noise Suppression
Air Pollution
Hazardous Substances and Nuclear Waste
Manufacturing and Industrial Production
Mineral Industries
Regulation and Deregulation
Water Pollution