Friday, February 24, 2012

A Safer Chemical Future

Elisa Sparkman, Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction Program

As administrative support staff, I am able to see the wide range of work that Ecology does through the many documents that cross my desk. I scour the documents for typos and formatting and wind up learning quite a bit!

Through my secretarial work, I have recently been learning about the agency’s role in federal legislation to reform the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. The U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works has been holding hearings in Washington DC to discuss reforming the act by passing the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011.

TSCA was passed over 35 years ago. Take a minute to think about what life was like in 1976 (or in my case, just imagine what it might have been like since I wasn’t quite born yet). What kind of products were out on the market? What were people wearing? I have to admit that I am thinking about polyester, sideburns, and disco… and my favorite Billy Joel album which was released that year.

Now that we’ve enjoyed some time travel… let’s jump back to the present. Come back to the world of smart phones, Lady Gaga, and social media. My point is not to reminisce about how popular culture has evolved (although that’s fun). My point is for us to think about how much more we know about what makes up the products we use and how much more we know about how chemicals can affect human and environmental health. We know more about the dangers of lead in paint, asbestos, mercury in cleaning products, and so on. A lot has changed in 35 years and in order to adequately protect my health and my family’s health, I would prefer public health legislation be current and as accurate as possible.

Thinking about how much more we know now than we knew in 1976 makes me think about all of the things we still don’t know. What is it going to look like 35 years from today? There is so much we don’t know… there will always be so much that we don’t know. In a world where new products and new chemicals are introduced all of the time, how will we ever keep up? TSCA reform paves the way for safer chemical alternatives to be used whenever possible and for new chemicals to undergo testing for consumers to be aware of any associated risks. This helps protect us from future toxic chemicals.

Reforming legislation that has been around for over 35 years is not easy. The U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works has been holding hearings to listen to testimony from state governments, non-governmental organizations, and the chemical industry. Many sectors of the national community can be affected by the proposed reform. Ecology is working with other states to bring forth their support and concerns for TSCA reform.

To read more about Department of Ecology and TSCA reform visit

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