Can Government Keep Toxins Out of Your Home?

05/25/2011 02:20 pm ET

Nearly everything in our homes—from
the upholstery to the plywood— is made from or treated with chemicals. That’s
scary enough, but get a load of this: Of the 82,000 chemicals currently
in commerce in the United States, less than 10 percent have been tested for
neurotoxicity. In the past, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken a low
profile in this area—largely because it faces challenges in obtaining the
information necessary to assess the chemicals’ human health and environmental

Great news this week: The EPA is starting to pay attention, and so is

The EPA announced it may start regulating chemicals,
with an immediate look at those considered most problematic for people’s health.
In Congress, a bill that would lower formaldehyde levels in composite woods was

Congress is currently working on Essential Principles for Reform of Chemicals
Management Legislation, a bill that would give the EPA a much stronger hand in
controlling what chemicals are permissible in the United States. The new EPA measures would require all chemicals entering the market to be
tested for their impacts on human
 and the environment. Manufacturers would be required to absorb the
cost of these tests. 

In addition, the U.S. Senate is following California’s lead in taking on
formaldehyde. A bill introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mike
Crapo (R-Idaho) is calling for lower formaldehyde levels in composite

Formaldehyde is ubiquitous in the modern home; it can be found in pressboard
and particleboard, is used to finish fabric and is a component in the glue used
in wood veneer. It’s also a known carcinogen, linked to throat cancer, respiratory
, watery eyes and depression. Americans were introduced to
formaldehyde’s hazards after Hurricane Katrina, when victims parked in FEMA trailers that contained high
formaldehyde levels became ill. 

Under the Senate bill, formaldehyde levels would have to meet California’s
Air Resources Board (CARB) health standards: 0.09 parts per million (ppm). An average
 has a formaldehyde level between 10 and 20 ppm, and the FEMA Katrina
trailers had levels of 77 ppm. The bill also requires third-party testing and
certification of levels in both domestic and imported products. 

The bill is currently in the committee of environment and public works. The
new standards would take effect by January 1, 2012, but most domestic
manufacturers are already scrambling to meet them. The Composite Panel Association estimates that 100 percent of
American manufacturers already comply with California’s code.

While you’re waiting for the government to act, there’s plenty you can do.
Check out these easy ways to keep harmful
out of your home and clean your home with safe, environmentally
friendly cleaners.