AS the new year began, few people in West Virginia knew of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. It was just one of the 84,000 or so chemicals Americans use each day that federal agencies are supposed to track.
Despite being required to monitor the safety of those 84,000 chemicals under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, federal officials knew little about this substance.
"There are so many aspects of this chemical that there is no information about, including its general toxicity," Sheldon Krimsky, a professor of environmental policy at Tufts University, told the Christian Science Monitor. "They don't have any information on human health effects."
But they should. That is what Congress promised when it passed these laws decades ago.
When Freedom Industries leaked 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol last week, OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency should have had the information at hand to help local and state officials deal with this emergency.
But the only agency with any information was the Centers for Disease Control, whose best guess was one part per million is safe. We know how much 4-methylcyclohexane methanol will kill a rat. We do not know how much is safe to drink — or breathe.
Instead of doing their job and carrying out the 1976 toxic substances act, EPA officials are using the Clean Water Act to harass a chicken farmer for having feathers on her property. Americans deserve better.
Six months ago, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, along with Sen. David Vitter, R-La., pushed legislation to update the Toxic Substance Control Act.
"Our agreement shows that protecting our health and environment does not have to impede our economic growth and job creation," Manchin said in July.
Conservatives and responsible business owners aren't opposed to adequate regulations that protect workers and the environment. But they do oppose regulations that impose burdensome administrative costs yet effectively serve no purpose.
Any regulations on the books need to be effective and relevant. The public thought both OSHA and the EPA were regulating 4-methylcyclohexane methanol and other chemicals, but these agencies apparently are not.
To be sure, the management at Freedom Industries is responsible for this leak. But OSHA and the EPA also let the public down.
Manchin's legislation is worth considering if it makes regulatory law more sensible and effective.