07/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

New Toxics Legislation Isn't Hazardous to Corporate Health

On April 15th, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, which proposes to bring regulations governing chemicals into the 21st century. Whether the industries involved go willingly or are dragged kicking and screaming remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the business community needs better rules on toxins and would be wise to support the legislation.

Currently, chemical safety is regulated by the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Designed to grant the EPA the power to control toxic substances, this 34-year-old law has not produced the information needed to identify hazardous chemicals and asks regulators to meet an absurdly high burden of proof before taking positive action. Instead of protecting public health from harm, it has allowed countless dangerous substances to flood our homes and environment.

The evidence of these failures can be seen in all-too common headlines warning consumers about the threats posed by countless household products containing BPA, phthalates, flame retardants, PFCs, and a host of other chemicals many experts believe can lead to hormonal disruption, developmental and reproductive damage, and other serious conditions.

The Safe Chemicals Act would change this by empowering the EPA to demand complete safety data, set safer exposure thresholds, place the burden of proof of chemical safety on manufacturers prior to introduction, take immediate action to reduce risks created by those substances already proven harmful, and encourage the development of green chemistry alternatives.

There is a wealth of reasons why the business community should support such a shift in toxics policy. By requiring both new and existing chemicals to meet identical testing requirements, the new law would establish a much more predictable regulatory system. New and existing chemicals would be subject to the same testing requirements, which would level the playing field and end the guessing game that so often accompanies today's approval process. Even better, the law would spur growth and create new profit centers by greatly expanding the market for greener products.

Importantly, banning chemicals that clearly have no place in a sustainable world would also reduce costs and risks related to product liability across a company's supply chains -- risks that today often remain unknown until the financial and brand reputation damage has been done. It would lower expenses associated with exposure-related employee illness and create safer workplaces that enhance employee productivity. It would also boost consumer confidence along with employee and investor trust, which would create a more positive pro-business environment.

This business case is extremely powerful. Reining in dangerous chemicals and replacing them with safer alternatives would promote a world that's healthier, wealthier, and much better for business as a direct result. That's why chemical makers and companies of all kinds should avoid the knee-jerk objections that typically come whenever stronger regulations are proposed. A closer and more rational look at the outcomes the Safe Chemicals Act would create shows plenty of things that are good for all of us.