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Environment & Science

New poll: most people want law updated for tighter chemical regulation

Chemicals are everywhere. Some are toxic; some are carcinogenic. People have a hard time appreciating their risk.
Chemicals are everywhere. Some are toxic; some are carcinogenic. People have a hard time appreciating their risk.
Food & Water Watch/Flickr

A lot of eople not only seem to know what the Toxic Substances Control Act is, they know they like it. That's the conclusion of a new poll released by the Natural Resources Defense Council this week. TSCA is pronounced "tosca," like the famous opera, or the almost as famous cafe in San Francisco

TSCA has existed for about 40 years to document and restrict hazardous chemicals. And there are lots of them: the federal Centers for Disease Control tracks nearly 150 compounds that could be harmful in our bodies. But when TSCA was created, its purview did not include tens of thousands of chemical substances that were "grandfathered" into the act. And according to several people I've talked to over the years, including UCLA professor Tim Malloy, we've got meaningful data for only a small fraction of the chemicals covered by the law. 

We've covered the so-called "green chemistry" movement in California for the past four years or so. The premise is to consider, before the chemicals enter production for commercial or industrial use, what the uses--and therefore risks--of the hazardous materials might be. 

Public Opinion Strategies conducted a national telephone poll of about 800 people. About three-quarters of them said they're concerned about exposure to toxic chemicals in day-to-day life. And around 68% of them said they support stricter legislation for chemicals that people get exposed to, which could come in the form of more disclosure or less distribution. 

For this poll, people identified their political leanings. Self-described Tea Party supporters, 51% of them, supported tighter chemical legislation, which is interesting because of the commitment by Tea Party sympathizers to ideas of smaller government and less regulation overall. 

Even TSCA specifically has some friends. 77 percent of poll respondents support reforming the act under a plan where "all chemical manufacturers would be required to show their chemicals are safe in order to sell them," and federal regulators "would be able to limit some or all uses of a chemical that may harm the public health or the environment."