Two well-known groups that fight for the interests of the public and nature are supportive of a bill being debated in the U.S. Senate.

The Safe Chemicals Act would update and modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which is called antiquated and ineffective by some environmental and consumer advocate groups. Supporters of the Senate bill say reforms must reflect changes in chemical use and production as well as knowledge gained about the health and environmental effects of chemicals over the past 35 years.

Brian Imus, state director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, says unlike pharmaceuticals, chemicals are presumed safe until proven harmful. “We are constantly exposed to chemicals about which we have zero safety information,” Imus said. “The Safe Chemicals Act will fix this. Chemical companies will have to demonstrate that a chemical is safe before they can put it in consumer products.”

Besides potential devastating effects on humans, there’s an environmental impact as well when new chemicals are introduced to the marketplace but aren’t tested. “They’ve been found in polar bears, they’ve been found in porpoises, they’ve been found in harbor seals,” said Max Mueller, program director for Environment Illinois. “They are truly everywhere and the environmental impacts, in addition to the human health impacts, they’re likely huge and they are unknown.”

Muller also backs the Safe Chemicals Act because testing must be done first before chemicals are exposed to the outside environment. “The problem with our current chemical system is that it makes people, it makes Americans, into guinea pigs,” Muller said. “We are the test subjects on which the safety of chemicals is tested.”