Sure, lists like the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics are enough to make some image-conscious companies remove toxic chemicals from their products, but there are still plenty of carcinogens that manage to weasel their way into everything from candles to shampoo. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to call out the companies that use these chemicals with its new “Chemicals of Concern” list, which will include pthalates, short-chain chlorinated paraffins, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and perfluorinated chemicals like PFOA.The EPA also issued Chemical Action Plans for four classes of chemicals, including PFOA.
As of right now, the EPA’s list is just a suggestion for companies, but eventually it could lead to regulations. And that means big changes for companies like DuPont, which manufactures PFOA as a processing aid in Teflon. Major manufacturers of clothing, plastic, children’s toys, and other products will also be affected by the potential regulations.
The “Chemicals of Concern” have been in regulation purgatory since 1976, when the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed. The law requires manufacturers to tell the government about new chemicals, but companies aren’t obligated to tell consumers about the chemicals if they think it will hurt business. And the creepiest part is that 20,000 new chemicals have entered the market since 1976. Now that the EPA is checking out the carcinogenic properties of the TSCA’s secret chemicals, we can probably expect fewer toxic substances in our products. And manufacturers will have to figure out less harmful ways to make all the things we use in our daily lives–a daunting but ultimately heartening prospect.
Janet Smith at Dupont tells us, “DuPont and other
industry members have already made outstanding progress in addressing
questions related to PFOA. The EPA Action Plan for Long-Chain
Perfluorinated Chemicals is generally consistent with the EPA 2010/15
PFOA Stewardship Program. DuPont has achieved significant progress in
meeting the goals of this program, including working to replace PFOA
with new alternatives.”