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Congress finally passes bill to regulate toxic chemicals

Flickr: Oregon Department of Agriculture

The US House of Representatives and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to overhaul the 1976 Toxic Chemicals Control Act, which has been assailed as one of the least effective laws ever passed. 

It was a rare act of bipartisanship and a much needed revision for the environment and the people. Now President Obama just has to sign it into law-- and he will

Under the old law , 64,000 chemicals commonly used for consumer products were unable to be reviewed and deadly substances like asbestos could not be banned. 

It essentially stopped the Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job. So products of all kinds, from  nail polish to house cleaners, have chemicals in them that have never rigorously been tested and have been shown to cause health and environmental problems.  

Compared to that bill, the updated Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act is an enormous improvement. It's the culmination of decades of advocacy and the high rate of "yes" votes shows just how badly this bill was needed. 

Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, worked for years to get this bill passed. Few people know its story more intimately than him. In a blog post, he explains the bill's major provisions

Basically, EPA regulators will now be able to review and rule on the legitimacy of all existing and new chemicals. New chemicals must gain approval before being used, a measure that, if originally included, could have kept thousands of chemicals from ever hitting the market. 

The bill also requires the EPA to protect vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women and poor people. Animal testing will also be curtailed. 

Deadlines will be created, funds and resources will be supplied, authority will be granted, and companies will be required to reveal more information about the chemicals they use. 

Some critics argue that the bill is not aggressive enough , but it's certainly a huge step in the right direction. Many bad chemicals will be pulled and blocked from entering the market. 

If you think that this new regulation hurts the economy by getting in the way of business, and that companies should just be trusted to avoid harmful toxins, consider the case of lead

For decades in the 20th century, lead was known to cause severe health problems, especially in children. Yet lead was used in paints and toys and all sorts of other products. 

Despite knowing about the adverse health effects, the lead industry obscured the research and lobbied hard against bills that would limit potential uses. They even funded campaigns claiming that lead was good for your health!

This obstructionism lasted for decades until the health consequences became incontrovertibly known. 

Similar obstructionism has blocked the passage of this recent reform, allowing thousands of chemicals to evade proper examination. 

But justice has finally arrived--thanks to steadfast champions of reform--and people and the environment will be much better off as a result.