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Chemicals play a critical role in the carwashing and detailing industry. From soaps to degreasers, our trade is built around specialty products that have been engineered to perform specific cleaning tasks.
But how much do we really know about the chemicals used in our everyday businesses? What are the cumulative effects these chemicals have on our bodies and the earth? Are these chemicals being regulated in a way that ensures our safety and that of the environment?
Chemicals used in consumer products are regulated federally by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Since 1976, this piece of legislature has been extremely ineffective at protecting the public from harmful ingredients. This act favors an industry built on ‘trade secrets’ rather than consumer health. Unfortunately, this approach has allowed chemical manufacturers to hide the ingredients they use, rather than disclose the serious health risks posed.
Additionally, TSCA legislature presumes that chemicals are safe unless they are proven dangerous. This irresponsible approach has allowed over 80,000 chemicals to enter the marketplace without testing of toxic impacts on human health and the environment.
With a groundswell of consumers demanding safer products and greater transparency, both state and federal lawmakers are busy drafting laws to protect consumers. If these laws pass, they will bring a dramatic wave of change to the carwash and detailing industry.
California leading the way
California has led efforts to reduce the use of toxic chemicals in everyday products. In 2008, the Green Chemistry Initiative was passed to help identify harmful components in consumer products. This law will, for the first time, effectively ban the sale of products containing certain harmful ingredients.
Under this new law California will establish a list of “chemicals of concern” which would include carcinogens, mutagens, neurotoxins and compounds that disrupt hormones, persist in the environment or accumulate in human bodies.
Next, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control will select “priority products,” those which are frequently used by children, pregnant women, the elderly and other sensitive populations. Manufacturers, suppliers and importers will be required to certify to the state and to retailers, that their products are free of these chemicals before they can sell them in California.
Safe Chemicals Act of 2010
On the Federal level, lawmakers have been busy at work in 2010. In April, The Safe Chemicals Act was introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. As stated by Lautenberg, “America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken. The EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals and the chemical industry has been asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe.”
The Safe Chemicals Act requires safety testing of all industrial chemicals, and puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order to stay on the market. Currently the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence demonstrates a chemical is dangerous. Subsequently, the EPA has been able to require testing for only 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the U.S. and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances.
This new legislation would give the EPA more power to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals and to require manufacturers to submit information proving the safety of every chemical in production and any new chemical seeking to enter the market.
While some view this federal legislature as bringing the chemical industry into the 21st century, others have voiced their concerns. Cal Dooley of the American Chemistry Council issued this statement regarding the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, “We are concerned that the bill’s proposed decisions-making standard may be legally and technically impossible to meet. The proposed changes to the new chemicals program could hamper innovation in new products, processes and technologies.”
Some manufacturers are also concerned that the Safe Chemicals Act will put the United States at an economic disadvantage because when other countries such as China and India have fewer regulations, they don’t have to spend as much money proving chemicals are safe for workers and consumers.
Conversely, some would argue that stronger regulation will actually make the United States more competitive. The United States has already fallen behind Europe where REACH (the European chemical regulatory law) requires international manufacturers to disclose on imports all chemical information. In a global marketplace, business should be responding to the growing international call for safe products rather than digging in and protecting their turf — at the expense of human health.
Secondly, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 can potentially save billions in health care costs. Chemicals which have been linked to costly illnesses (cancer, respiratory disease, lung and kidney disease) will be removed from consumption on the market. Manufacturers owe a responsibility to users to provide products that are efficacious and safe.