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Stronger regulations on chemicals spur innovation, study finds

February 18, 2013
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Tougher rules to regulate hazardous chemicals have sparked the continuous invention of safer chemicals and accelerated the pace at which safer alternatives are developed, according to a new study by The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

"Our study finds that stronger laws governing hazardous chemicals can not only drive innovation, but also create a safer marketplace," said Baskut Tuncak, staff attorney at CIEL and author of the report. "Well-designed laws spark the invention of alternatives and further help level the playing field to enable safer chemicals to overcome barriers to entry, such as economies of scale enjoyed by chemicals already on the market and the externalized costs of hazardous chemicals on human health."

According to Peter Droell, head of the European Commission's Unit for Policy Development for Industrial Innovation, "Over-regulation ... is seen as an old problem and there is a lot of truth in that. We are working to overcome it. But we also need to recognize that regulation can be a big driver of innovation." A review of stricter laws for the industrial chemicals recently enacted in the European Union found that the European chemical industry grew after the enactment of regulations despite the context of global economic contraction.

RELATED: US chemical industry shows sustained growth

Unlike Europe, United States has not taken similar steps to place the burden of proving a chemical's safety on industry. "By blocking reform in Congress, the chemical industry is not only delaying needed health protections, they are hamstringing American firms that compete in a world market that increasingly demands safer products," said Andy Igrejas, Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. "The Safe Chemicals Act, soon to be reintroduced in the new Congress would protect Americans from toxic chemicals and restore our leadership on these issues on the world stage."

The report, titled "Driving Innovation: How stronger laws help bring safer chemicals to market," highlights the human health-related costs of intrinsically hazardous chemicals, such as endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals, and recommends their systematic phase-out under international laws. Of particular concern is pre-natal and post-natal exposure to these chemicals during critical development periods for children, the effects of which are often irreversible.

Howard Williams, V.P. and General Manager of Construction Specialties, a building materials manufacturing company, believes that "Industry should pay to ensure chemical safety; it has the profit opportunity and should carry the cost. Stronger laws present an opportunity to prevent exposure to hazardous chemicals, while accelerating product innovation, job creation, and economic growth. Policy-makers should feel emboldened to restrict chemicals of concern and promote safer alternatives, which in turn create more sustainable markets for all stakeholders: whether business, consumer or the environment."

CIEL's report provides a series of recommendations for policymakers to prevent hazardous chemicals from being replaced by a different chemical of concern. Recommendations include: phasing-out chemicals with endocrine disrupting properties and other intrinsic hazards; internalization of the cost of hazardous chemicals by industry, including proving the safety of chemicals on the market; and crafting stronger treaties for a level playing field globally.

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