Debunking the Myths: Are there really 84,000 chemicals?
If you’ve ever read a news article or blog post about chemicals, you may have heard the oft-cited claim that there are 84,000 chemicals in commerce but only 200 of these have been tested for safety. What you may not know is that this “statistic” is entirely false. Unfortunately, it has taken on a life of its own thanks to the effective way it can be used to provoke fear and distrust in an unsuspecting audience.
So let’s take a look at the facts:
Fact: There are not 84,000 chemicals in commerce today.
- The federal chemical regulation law known as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to keep a list of all chemicals manufactured or processed in the United States. This TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory included roughly 84,000 chemicals – but this number did not reflect chemicals that were actually being produced and used.
- The 84,000 number included numerous duplications, as well as chemicals no longer in use. A more accurate count of the total number of chemicals in commerce is closer to 7,700 – this reflects chemicals produced in what EPA considers “significant amounts” and widely used in commerce.
- TSCA was recently updated, with the passage of the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (LCSA) on June 22, 2016. The new law requires that EPA update the inventory to distinguish active from inactive chemicals. That way, the Agency can focus on chemicals that are actually in use today.
- EPA will then use this inventory of active chemicals to screen all chemicals based on hazards, uses and typical human exposures. This will include consideration of vulnerable groups and the environment, proximity to drinking water sources and other relevant information. The screening will be used to prioritize which of those that EPA should focus on first for a risk evaluation.
Fact: EPA has reviewed thousands of chemicals.
- EPA has required significantly more testing than the “200 chemicals” figure cited. This figure only reflects testing done under one part of TSCA (Section 4) and overlooks testing EPA had required under TSCA’s “significant new use rule provisions” (Section 5). In fact, over the past 30 years, under its approval process for new chemicals, EPA reviewed more than 36,000 chemicals and took regulatory action on nearly 2,600 of these.
- The LCSA gives EPA authority to immediately begin a risk evaluation for any chemical it designates as a “high priority.”
- IF EPA’s risk evaluation determines that a chemical or a specific use of a chemical presents an unreasonable risk, EPA can apply risk management measures including labeling requirements, use restrictions, phase-outs and bans.
Fact: The chemical industry is one of the most heavily regulated in the United States.
- The LCSA requires that EPA screen all chemicals in active use, with a focus on “high priority” chemicals.
- Besides complying with LCSA, new chemicals also must comply with myriad federal regulations, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, Consumer Product Safety Act, Federal Hazardous Substances Act and more.
- The following illustrates the rigorous review process that new chemicals undergo before they are used in products.
- Consumers also should have access to safety information about chemicals. The Responsible Care® Product Safety Code requires chemical manufacturers to evaluate and continuously improve product safety, while also making information about chemical products available to the public.
Chemical safety and providing transparent information about chemicals is a top priority for the chemical industry. Working with all stakeholders along the supply chain, the chemical industry is working to maximize the safety, efficacy and sustainability of all of the products it manufactures.