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The Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it would issue new rules for three chemicals used in dyes, flame retardants, laundry detergents and other consumer and industrial products.

Citing health risks, the EPA said it plans to tighten regulation of benzidine dyes, used in textiles, paints and pharmaceuticals; hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), used as a flame retardant in construction materials and consumer products; and nonylphenol/nonylphenol ethoxylates (NP/NPEs), used in detergents, pesticides, cleaners and food packaging.

The primary health concern with benzidine dyes is cancer, the EPA said. The chemical HBCD, it said, persists in the environment and “may pose potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects in people.” And NP/NPEs pose risks to children because they have been found in human breast milk, blood, and urine, and have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems in rodents, the agency said.

The Textile Rental Services Association, a group that represents most of the nation’s industrial laundries, has agreed to voluntarily phase out NP/NPEs in industrial liquid detergents by the end of 2013 and in powder detergents by the end of 2014.

Other actions the agency could take include new reporting requirements under the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory program and potential bans or restrictions, it said. The agency added benzidine dyes, HBCD and NP/NPEs to its Chemicals of Concern list, which identifies compounds that present an “unreasonable risk of injury to health and the environment.”

Lindsay Dahl, deputy director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of public health associations, environmental groups and parents that claims more than 11 million members, told the Center for Public Integrity that today’s announcement “shows leadership from the EPA that we haven’t seen in recent decades. The fact that under a weak federal law they’re being proactive on a lot of toxic chemicals is really commendable.”

The federal law to which Dahl was referring is the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). EPA officials have acknowledged that the law limits their ability to regulate more than 80,000 chemicals in use today.

“Understandably, the public is turning to government for assurances that chemicals that are ubiquitous in our economy, our environment and our bodies have been assessed using the best available science, and that unacceptable risks have been eliminated,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a Senate committee last December. “But, under existing law, we cannot give that assurance.”

Legislation to overhaul TSCA is pending in the House and the Senate. Dahl said, however, that “the opportunity is narrowing” for passage during the dwindling days remaining in the current session of Congress. Lawmakers return to work in early September and then plan to adjourn about one month later so members can campaign ahead of the November election.

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A journalist since 1978, Jim Morris has won more than 80 awards for his work, including the George Polk...