10/21/2013 07:19 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Improve and Move

No, this is not my life mantra. But I'm considering it. "Improve -- and move" is our mantra for the new proposal to reform the 37 year old -- and dangerously ineffective -- law, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. This is our chance to make a HUGE difference in our lives, by improving and moving the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013.

Right now it is still legal for manufacturers to use:

  • Flame retardants -- linked to reproductive damage -- in couches, crib mattresses
  • Formaldehyde -- a known human carcinogen -- in clothing, and building materials
  • Phthalates -- linked to birth defects -- used to soften plastics in lunch boxes, backpacks and binders, for instance
  • PFCs -- some also suspected carcinogens -- used in nonstick cookware, and clothing and carpeting.

I could go on and on: 62,000 chemicals on the market in 1976 -- still the majority of those in use today -- were grandfathered in under TSCA without proof of safety. Since then, 23,000 more new chemicals have been allowed to enter the market without rigorous testing. We may think that because something is on the shelves of our stores, it's been shown to be safe. We are mistaken. And what's all this got to do with air pollution? Many of these toxic chemicals "off-gas" -- they drift into the air in our homes and workplaces, and contaminate the dust on the floor where our babies crawl. We breathe them into our bodies.

For years, hundreds of thousands of parents have been demanding reform -- just look at how some companies dropped the hormone disruptor BPA in plastics, for instance, because of consumers' protests. But the problem is that without regulation, manufacturers can just substitute BPA with another untested chemical that might be even more hazardous. We need strong chemical laws. And the new Chemical Safety Improvement Act is our first real chance in decades to get to that goal.

IMPROVE: The new bill has significant flaws -- and negotiations are underway to improve it. For instance, the bill does not adequately address the special vulnerability of infants and children, who have different responses to chemicals than do adults.

MOVE: The new bill is bipartisan, which is vital to actually passing legislation. It is our only chance, and may be for years, to give our government the authority it needs to identify and regulate toxic chemicals. The status quo is not an option.

Remember: right now, WE are the guinea pigs. Under current law, the chemicals in our stuff are innocent until proven guilty -- effectively, they're being tested in our bodies, and in our children's bodies. This isn't right. Let's do something about it.