Op-Ed

Chemicals Are Safe

In response to your article “Chemistry for Designers: Understanding Hazards in Building Products,” (see EBN Mar. 2010) the American Chemistry Council (ACC) would like to emphasize that architects, designers, builders, and consumers deserve to have confidence that the products they choose, when used for their intended purposes, are safe. Because they are.

Readers should not be misled that the products of chemistry are inherently dangerous. In making decisions, we rely on credible, scientific information and take reasonable steps to reduce risks. Moreover, our industry continually assesses new information on chemical risks and, where necessary, takes appropriate action.

ACC supports efforts in Congress to modernize the current chemical management law (TSCA) to reflect the technological advances that have occurred since it was first approved in 1976. Since that time there have been significant advances in building and construction materials and improved methods for product testing. The industry supports granting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the authority to determine if a chemical is safe for its intended use, a change that should enhance confidence that chemicals can be used safely. Sustainable chemistry—like that used to create new roofing materials and coatings—is at the heart of our business.

America’s chemical industry will continue to work closely with scientists, government, and consumers to develop innovative new products that will make buildings even more energy efficient and sustainable.

Vice President, Plastics

American Chemistry Council

Editor’s Response:

Our article aims to help designers make effective choices in spite of the broad-brush assertions being made on all sides. We make it clear that, while not all products of chemistry are “inherently dangerous,” some are much more dangerous than others—for example, persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) can create intractable problems far from the site of the intended use.

If ACC and its members fully adopted EPA’s 12 principles of Green Chemistry and the Guiding Principles for Chemicals Policy established by the Business-NGO Working Group for Safer Chemicals and Sustainable Materials, I would have more confidence that reasonable steps to reduce risk were indeed being taken. Far too often, the current approach to assessing new information on chemical risks means that a chemical (like bisphenol-A) is already in widespread use before information emerges on the harm it causes. This approach causes far more damage and makes appropriate action that much more economically challenging than if a more precautionary approach had been taken.

We appreciate that ACC supports efforts in Congress to modernize TSCA, which would ideally address these problems. As with all legislation, however, the devil is in the details. We hope to see ACC supporting legislation that is robust enough to provide concerned professionals with the confidence on product safety that, according to ACC, they deserve. We look forward to the day when products are sufficiently hazard-free and U.S. chemical policy is robust enough that an article like this is no longer necessary.

Published March 31, 2010

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