Group launches Web site for dangerous chemicals

Healthy Legacy launched Wednesday, a searchable database dealing with the toxicity of more than 5,000 items.

by Jill Jensen

A Minnesota group advocating for stricter chemical regulations in commercial products launched a new Web site Wednesday that lets people see the toxicity of more than 5,000 consumer and household goods. âÄúYou shouldnâÄôt have to be a chemical engineer to go shopping,âÄù said Peter Starzynski , coordinator of Healthy Legacy, a coalition of Minnesota organizations that launched the Web site. The site,, catalogues thousands of specific items, breaking them down into three categories based on the level of dangerous chemicals present. The site ranks things from handbags to car seats to chew toys and provides specific data regarding the amount of dangerous chemicals in a product, measured in parts per million. Jamison Tessneer , public policy advocate for the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, a University student group that is a member of Healthy LegacyâÄôs coalition, said there are more than 80,000 industrial chemicals documented under the Toxic Substances Control Act . The Environmental Protection Agency has required fewer than 200 of those chemicals be tested, and only five have been banned , he said. âÄúItâÄôs broken and it needs to be fixed,âÄù Starzynski said of the act. But some in the chemical industry argue that the number of documented industrial chemicals is misleading. âÄúThat TSCA inventory is just a historical database, nothing ever comes off,âÄù said Michael Walls , vice president of regulatory and technical affairs for the American Chemistry Council, a group representing some of the biggest chemical companies in the U.S., including 3M, ExxonMobile and Honeywell . Of the 80,000 chemicals documented under the TSCA, which have accumulated over the last 33 years, only about 10,000 to 15,000 are actually out on the market today. One problem with the act is 62,000 chemicals were grandfathered in without undergoing testing when the legislation was first enacted, according to an article written by David Wallinga, director of the Food and Health Program at the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy in Minneapolis. Both Healthy Legacy and MPIRG say the TSCA is in dire need of an overhaul and they are lobbying for legislation that will require chemical manufacturers to prove the chemicals they use are safe before they are introduced on the market. Most research done on toxic chemicals focuses on the hazards of short-term high dose chemical exposure, Tessneer said, leading some groups like MPIRG and Healthy Legacy to claim that hazards may be worse than initially thought due to the effects of constant low-dose exposure that have yet to be studied. According to Walls, though, âÄúthose are issues that are still very much on the frontiers of scienceâĦthere are elements of those theories that havenâÄôt been proven yet.âÄù The American Chemistry Council also recognizes the need to revise TSCA, but cites the practical issues of testing the 3,000 high production chemicals that make up 95 percent of the volume of U.S. chemicals, let alone all 10 to 15 thousand in use. Costs will go up for companies required to do extensive research, and only a fraction of those tested may actually prove dangerous, Walls said.. Banning chemicals considered harmful to human health may be difficult as well. For instance, Walls said, formaldehyde is naturally produced by the human body , but has also proven harmful in larger doses, bringing up the question of whether it can even be banned. âÄúNinety-six percent of all articles in commerce are a product of chemistry,âÄù he said. âÄúIn the mass majority of cases those chemicals are not going to be biologically active.âÄù