Congress Introduces Safe Chemicals Act to Reform U.S. Chemical Management

On April 15, both houses of Congress introduced legislation that would overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) and the way the federal government protects the public from toxic chemicals.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, with Reps. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., unveiling similar legislation in the House.

“America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken,” Lautenberg said. “Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe. My ‘Safe Chemicals Act’ will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to get tough on toxic chemicals.”

The Safe Chemicals Act requires safety testing of all industrial chemicals and puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order stay on the market. Under current policy, the EPA can call for safety testing only after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances.

The new legislation will give EPA more power to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals and require manufacturers to submit information proving the safety of every chemical in production and any new chemical seeking to enter the market.

“The Safe Chemicals Act would go a long way toward bringing our chemical policies into the 21st century,” said Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families in an April 15 press conference. “We applaud Sen. Lautenberg and both Congressmen Rush and Waxman for introducing the strongest bill yet to reform TSCA.”

During the press conference, Richard Denison, Ph.D., senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, told EHS Today that the legislation has a provision stressing that the first resort in protecting workers should be establishing better engineering controls to reduce the presence of a chemical in the workplace rather than relying on personal protective equipment as the first line of defense.

“In addition, when exposure is being assessed, occupational exposures are certainly to be included, and workers are a potential vulnerable sub-population that would have to be included under the statutes of the safety standard,” he said.

Bill Highlights

The Safe Chemicals Act would:

  • Provide EPA with sufficient information to judge a chemical’s safety.
  • Requires manufacturers to develop and submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, while also preventing duplicative or unnecessary testing.
  • Prioritize chemicals based on risk, with EPA focuses resources on evaluating chemicals most likely to cause harm.
  • Ensure a safety threshold is met for all chemicals on the market.
  • Place the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their chemicals. All uses must be identified and determined safe for the chemical to enter the market or continue to be used.
  • Take fast action to address highest risk chemicals. In addition, the EPA administrator is given authority to act quickly if any chemical poses an imminent hazard.
  • Create open access to reliable chemical information.
  • Promote innovation and development of green chemistry.

Denison did raise concerns about a provision in the bill that would allow hundreds of new chemicals every year to enter the market and be used in products without first requiring them to be shown to be safe. “This provision, we think, is at odds we think of fundamental goal of the bill that all chemicals be shown to be safe as a condition for being used,” he said.

Denison added that the bill does not provide EPA with clear authority to restrict the worst chemicals without going through a safety determination based on a risk assessment. Overall, however, the coalition of public health and environmental organizations, safety stakeholders and lawmakers stressed this chemical reform is a move toward better protecting the health and safety of the American public.

“For decades, Congress has been told that the Toxic Substances Control Act is failing its mission and is in desperate need of reform,” said Rep. Waxman. “In order to protect all Americans from toxic exposures and the adverse effects they cause, Congress must strengthen this failing law.”

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