A new U.S. government study contends that the country's chemical toxicity laws provide only ``limited assurance'' that health and environmental risks are identified before compounds, including many plastic compounds, are used in everyday products.
The study from the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan, investigative arm of Congress, is likely to fuel the debate about chemical regulation in the United States.
Industry officials, however, said federal laws are strong enough to protect people and do not need overhauling.
The July 13 GAO study was released by several members of Congress at the same time as they proposed legislation to require manufacturers to provide more health and safety information about chemicals used in products and to demonstrate a ``reasonable certainty of no harm,'' similar to food safety laws.
Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., who requested the study, said the report shows that federal laws are too weak, and he noted that chemicals ranging from bisphenol A, used in polycarbonate bottles, to flame retardants used in plastic, have been found widely in people.
The report said the Environmental Protection Agency has tested fewer than 200 of the 62,000 chemicals in use since it gained authority to test in 1979.
The GAO report said that instead of requiring testing for new chemicals, EPA predicts toxicity by using models that compare them with similar compounds for which more data exists. And it said federal law puts the burden of data collection on EPA.
``EPA does not routinely assess the risks of all existing chemicals and EPA faces challenges in obtaining the necessary information to do so,'' the report said.
Responding to the GAO report, the American Chemistry Council said federal laws give EPA appropriate authority to protect people from ``unreasonable'' risk, and it said the industry has cooperated with EPA on a number of voluntary initiatives to test high-production chemicals.
ACC was much more critical of the proposal for legislation, however, saying that it is based on unfounded assumptions that disease is on the rise because of chemical exposure. ACC, based in Arlington, Va., said EPA is active, restricting 3,800 chemicals submitted for review.
``The bill appears designed to make it easy to ban essential and often life-saving products from everyday use without considering the benefits these products provide,'' ACC said.
It was a busy week for chemical studies. Researchers at Indiana State University reported a link between phthalates and lupus, a disease in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissues. And the Environmental Working Group in Washington released a study saying it found more than 200 chemicals in the blood of babies.