Cars are safer and better now than at any other time in history. I am not just talking about anti-lock brakes or air bags; I am talking about the chemicals and substances that go in and come out of the cars.
Decades ago, brake pads were made with asbestos. Asbestos worked really well, but it could lead to cancer, so manufacturers replaced that product with a comparable, non-toxic one.
Cars used to run on leaded gasoline. Lead fumes could result in death, so manufacturers added catalytic converters; cars became cleaner than ever and unleaded fuel now works great.
All of this change and innovation was driven by health concerns, and has resulted in cars that are safer on the road and on the environment. As the owner of a car business, that makes me feel better about the products I am selling.
But the owners of many other businesses don’t know what chemicals are used in their products. Lately even some kids’ toys are turning out to have unsafe chemicals linked to various cancers, learning disabilities and developmental disorders.
Much to the dismay of small businesses, the chemical safety system we all rely on is broken.
Congress passed our current chemical safety system, the Toxic Substances Control Act, in 1976. Unfortunately, this well-intended 36-year-old law has failed to protect Americans from exposure to toxic chemicals in many everyday products. Since the passage of TSCA, only 200 of the 82,000 chemicals used in commerce have been tested for health and safety; only five have ever been restricted or banned.
Given this abysmal record, how can business owners be sure they are selling safe products?
Maine has taken this national problem into its own hands. In 2007, the Maine Legislature passed the Kid Safe Product Act — a brilliantly simple and common-sense approach to phasing out the use of dangerous chemicals from the production of products that children are in contact with every day.
Maine picked up where the federal government failed.
However, the overarching problem of chemicals in manufacturing can’t be solved one chemical at a time or one state at a time. The federal government needs to overhaul its system.
The good news is, there is legislation already under way that can make this vision a reality.
The Safe Chemicals Act is currently being considered in the Senate. It builds on Maine’s straightforward approach and picks up where TSCA has failed. It is exactly the type of practical solution that concerned citizens and business-owners around the country are waiting for.
It is time for Congress to follow Maine’s lead and pass the Safe Chemicals Act. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have both expressed their concerns about the existing chemical safety system. Now they have an opportunity to stand up for Maine's small businesses and the families who are concerned about the products small businesses sell.
I encourage our senators to help pass this through the Congress.
The history of the automobile industry demonstrates America’s ability to produce good-quality, safe products. Let’s apply that ability and innovative thinking to all products sold in our country.
Adam Lee is chairman of Lee Auto Malls.