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The Proposed Toxic Substances Control Act: Control of Unregulated Chemical Substances

November 1973

Citation: 3 ELR 10168

Issue: 11

In recent years, technology has contributed significantly to the fight against pollution. The new mechanisms presently being utilized to mitigate the harmful effects of noxious emissions and to improve the quality of waste effluents are exemplary of technological gains in the environmental field. There is, however, in contrast to this progress, an increasing concern that the product of other purported technological advances actually poses a serious threat to human health and the environment. Particularly alarming are recent findings that indicate that among the 300 to 500 chemicals introduced into commercial use each year are some that are dangerous to man. For example, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been detected in dangerous levels in poultry; cadmium and mercury, in addition to constituting a source of environmental contamination, pose a serious health hazard; and the chloroethers are believed to be a significant source of water pollution and drinking water contamination.

These findings, and the apparent certainty that other chemicals with as yet undetected detrimental properties are in widespread use, illustrate the need for new means of regulating both new chemicals and those already on the market. Unfortunately, however, the environmenal legislation presently available, such as the Clean Air Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, does not provide legal authority to prevent the manufacture and distribution of PCBs or other dangerous chemical substances. In addtion to the absence of regulatory authority, data needed to assess the impact of chemicals on human health and the environment is often not made available. This lack of technical information stems at least in part from the reluctance of many manufacturers to release information relative to the chemical substances that they produce. In some instances, the absence of data has meant that environmental health disasters have had to be experienced before toxic substances could be identified.

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