Thursday, July 22, 2010

Congress Introduces Legislation to Protect Public Health

Recent events, such as the BP oil spill, highlight the danger posed by regulatory agencies that aren’t properly doing their jobs of, well, regulating. The BP oil spill happens to be one highly visible and very dramatic example, in which we learned too late that MMS was actually allowing companies to drill without proper permits and overruling findings of staff scientists.

However, oil is not the only industry escaping proper regulation. Surprisingly, the cosmetics that women use are not being regulated at all by the U.S. government. The FDA spells it out clearly on their website, that the responsibility of ensuring the safety of ingredients actually falls on the cosmetic industry:

Does FDA approve cosmetics before they go on the market?

FDA's legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives. However, FDA may pursue enforcement action against violative products, or against firms or individuals who violate the law.

Feeling safe? Current research has strongly demonstrated that we should feel quite the opposite. Studies have shown that the chemicals we are exposed to every day are not only getting into are body but are linked to a increasing occurrence of diseases, such as cancer and learning disabilities. The President’s Cancer Panel came to the same conclusion, which I reported in early May.

In an attempt to correct this dangerous lack of oversight, Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Edward Markey introduced a bill today called the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010. If passed, this bill will require government testing of products and ingredients and strengthen safety standards.

If you are interested in starting to use safer cosmetics and personal care products on a shorter timescale than lawmaking will allow, the Environmental Working Group has a cosmetic safety database called Skin Deep, which evaluates products based on the safety of ingredients that will allow you to choose the best alternatives.

In other Hill news, Reps. Bobby Rush and Henry Waxman introduced legislation today, called the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010, to overhaul chemical regulation policy in the U.S. The bill would change regulation requiring companies show chemicals are proven safe before they are introduced into consumer goods instead of the burden being placed on the EPA to prove they are harmful to be removed. A similar bill sponsored by Senator Lautenberg was introduced in the Senate in April.

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