Bi-partisan chemical safety bill updates 40 year old legislation

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) speaking at a bi-partisan coalition news conference in support of updates to the Toxic Substance Control Act  in December 2015. (Senate Democrats/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | June 30, 2016

President Obama signed a monumental environmental bill into law last Wednesday that will make amendments to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.

Originally, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was signed into law in order to protect U.S. citizens from hazardous chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, radon, and lead-based paint. Signed by President Ford, the law granted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority “to require reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures.”

The original bill suffered shortcomings according to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. In an official blog post following last week’s updates to it, she explains, “While the intent of the original TSCA law was spot-on, it fell far short of giving EPA the authority we needed to get the job done.”

Indeed, the original bill deemed any chemical to be safe, even without scientific testing, as long as it was on the market before TSCA was signed into law. Research requirements were also so arduous and extensive that it was often impossible for the EPA officials to test chemicals at all. To illustrate, the EPA attempted to ban asbestos under TSCA during the first Bush Administration because of its many adverse health effects. Their movement to ban the chemical was overturned in a court of law. McCarthy points out, “In the law’s 40-year history, only a handful of the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market when the law passed have ever been reviewed for health impacts, and only 5 have ever been banned.”

The updated Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, spearheaded by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), is a testament to lawmakers working across party lines to protect the health of citizens. Under the new law, the EPA is required to test all existing chemicals along with new ones before they hit the market. The new bill also mandates that chemicals which pose the highest health risk are given priority in the testing process. Along with a consistent $25 million a year budget, the EPA will be granted many options to deal with chemical and substance risks including labeling requirements, use restrictions, phase-outs. The EPA expects to begin the evaluation of high-priority substances within 180 days.

For a digestible fact sheet about the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, click here.

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