InterviewStronger US regs may hit chems

23 September 2008 20:02  [Source: ICIS news]

By Ben Lefebvre

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The financial market meltdown could put US lawmakers in the mood to impose more regulations on the chemical industry, author and former Clinton administration official David Michaels said on Tuesday.

Chemical manufacturers should expect stronger laws to be placed on the use of their products, said Michaels, current interim chairman at George Washington University’s department of environmental and occupational health.

Michaels is also author of Doubt Is Their Product, a book about the influence of industry-funded studies on government regulations.

“The lesson of [the] financial crisis will spread to other realms. The idea that government has a role in protecting the public cannot be disputed,” said Michaels, a former assistant secretary for environment, safety and health at the US Department of Energy (DoE).

"The understanding that the market is not adequate to protect us is very clear right now," he said.

Michaels said he thought the US could benefit from a European-style Reach (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) scheme.

Such regulations would require chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their products before sending them to market.

Although the US chemical industry favours less stringent standards, a potential Barack Obama or John McCain administration would probably bring to the White House a stronger sense of regulation than that possessed by the current government, he said. 

Such an administration could restrict the use of bisphenol A (BPA), since several groups disagree over its effects on people, Michaels said.

“Does BPA cause diseases in humans? We don’t know," he said.

"But we can’t say it doesn’t cause harm to humans. The absence of evidence of harm is often misinterpreted as the evidence of absence of harm," he said.

"We should continue to do research but also limit exposure because we have no evidence [BPA] is safe,” Michaels added.

In a case such as BPA, Michaels said enough doubt exists to justify stricter regulations.

Michaels said some chemical companies try to put the brakes on government intervention by funding research intended to discredit previous studies that raise concerns about a product. 

“Companies realise they have a problem but want to get a few more years of profits before regulations are imposed. How many billions of dollars in sales does BPA bring? So the companies prefer to wait,” he said. 

Nonetheless, consumers concerned about a chemical’s health effects are leading retailers to pull products off their shelves, he said. This only hides the problem without solving it. 

“It’s unfortunate that Wal-Mart has become the FDA [Food and Drug Administration]. In the absence of federal regulation or even good government advice, the vendors step in," Michaels said.

"The problem is that’s incomplete protection. Unless the government steps in, dangerous products will be sold at dollar stores. If you want to find Chinese toothpaste, go to the dollar store,” he said.

For more on BPA visit ICIS chemical intelligence
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By: Ben Lefebvre
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