America's track record of chemical safety is nothing short of a disaster. America's central chemical safety law - the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) - has not been updated since its adoption, forty years ago in 1976. Yet due to rare bipartisan agreement in congress, the chemical safety act may finally be updated after a generation. This is a vitally important goal for the safety and health of all Americans.
Under America's current chemical safety law, the government has a nearly impossible burden of proof to actually prove that a chemical is harmful in order to prevent the use of that chemical. The EPA has just 90 days to do this task before a chemical is released to the public. This is dangerously small window of time to make a scientific judgment about a chemical, considering that some chemicals require years of testing in order to prove their toxicity. What has been the result? In the past four decades the EPA has required testing for just 200 of thousands of chemicals, and it has issued regulations to control only five of them. More than 8,000 chemicals are produced in the U.S. at an annual rate of more than 25,000 pounds each (Washington Post).
So what this means is that only a tiny fraction of the chemicals that American's use in their everyday life have actually been tested for safety. An audit in 2009 found that the EPA was a failure on chemicals. The report said that the EPA lacked basic information detailing whether a chemical was a health risk or not. So this is very scary when you think about how prevalent chemicals are in American society. They are everywhere. In our air, water, environment - and yes, even in our blood (Chemicals in the blood). In 2005, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention completed screening for the presence of 148 toxic chemicals in the blood in a broad cross section of Americans, it was found that the vast majority of subjects harbored almost all the toxins.
So America is way past due for an overhaul of the current system of chemical safety.
Fortunately, there are two bills in congress right now that are working toward this goal. And while these bills may not be perfect, they do have support among Democrats and Republicans, as well as the chemical industries themselves. There is the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety bill in the Senate, and the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 in the House (which is basically the House's version of the Frank R. Lautenberg bill). So this may be the first time in a generation that America has the chance to fix its flawed system of chemical safety.
THE FRANK R. LAUTENBERG CHEMICAL SAFETY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Read the Bill Here: S.697
Congressional Information About the Bill
Chemicals policy reform (EDF)
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)
After years of debating and inaction, the U.S. Senate passed legislation for the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. This act fixes many of the key problems with our current law. Rare political compromise on both sides has opened a window to pass meaningful reform that will protect the health of American people. The bill would update the current law and give the EPA the tools necessary to ensure the safety of chemicals and significantly strengthen the health protections for American families. Under the bill, the EPA can order firms to test their new products, rather than go through a lengthy rule making process to trigger such testing. The measure will also impose user fees on the chemical industry to help ramp up the testing of chemicals.
So why would the chemical companies support this? In return they will be subject to a single regulatory system, although states will still have the right to seek a federal waiver to impose their rules on a given chemical. At the moment, states like California, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have placed their own restrictions on some chemicals in the face of federal inaction.
American Chemistry Council President Cal Dooley, whose group represents several chemical companies as well as major U.S. auto makers and manufacturers of consumer goods, said his members were willing to disclose more information about their products in exchange for a more uniform standard. The organization has lobbied hard for the bill for at least eight years, and at points they have even circulated drafts of legislation to lawmakers.
“Not having one federal regulation guiding products onto the national marketplace is really problematic,” Dooley said in an interview. The bill “does strike what we see as an appropriate balance (Washington Post).”
Republicans did win some key concessions in the bill, including a few protections for confidential business information and requirements that the EPA base its risk determinations on up-to-date science.
The Environmental community, however, remains spit. Throughout the negotiations, a key question has been whether states can regulate chemicals already undergoing a safety review by the EPA. While the federal government retains that sole power, Boxer and committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) have crafted a compromise to allow state intervention under certain circumstances. It allows states to restrict a chemical’s use if a federal risk review and determination takes more than three-and-a-half years. (Washington Post)
“We are very pleased with the package that is emerging here,” said Richard Denison, the Environmental Defense Fund’s lead senior scientist. If the EPA “is dragging its feet, states should be able to make decisions in their own interest (Washington Post).”
The bill’s provisions also include prioritizing the review of chemicals stored near drinking water as well as those that are human carcinogens and highly toxic with chronic exposure.
White House spokesman Frank Benenati said in an email that “we are encouraged by the progress that’s being made” on the bill. “We believe the latest draft represents an improvement over current law, and we’re hopeful that House and Senate negotiators continue to work to finalize a strong TSCA bill for the president to sign.” (Washington Post)
TSCA MODERNIZATION ACT OF 2015
Read the Bill Here: H.R. 2576
Congressional Information About the Bill
House OKs Bill To Overhaul Toxic Substances Control Act (Law 360)
Rep. Shimkus, John (R-IL)
The TSCA Modernization Act has a surprising amount of support in the House of Representatives. There were 398 yeas, and only 1 nay. This bill is very similar to the Frank R. Lautenberg Act, and in the text of the bill, it even says, "This Act may be cited as the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act." Just like the Senate bill, the central goal of this bill is to identify and control unreasonable risks of chemicals by using a science based risk evaluation that considers health and environmental effects, while ensuring that confidential business information is adequately protected.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND REPORTS SHOW THE NEED FOR REFORM
America is getting left behind as other parts of the world push through major chemical advances. For more than a decade, EDF’s experts have pressed for reform for America's troubling system of chemical safety, issuing a series of ground-breaking reports and papers. More recently, EDF’s chemicals blog has provided their perspective on current issues and recent developments on chemicals policy reform. They are also engaged in efforts at the state and federal level to develop and enact comprehensive chemicals policy reform.
WORLD FUTURE FUND REPORTS ON CHEMICAL SAFETY
Failure of U.S. Chemical Testing
The Huge Drop in America's Commitment to a Safe Environment: EPA Budget as a Percent of Total Federal Budget
Indoor Air Report
Flint Water Crisis
WORLD FUTURE FUND NEWS STORY COLLECTIONS
Global Environmental Crisis
The Gathering Storm in America
EPA and EU Sites Concerning Chemicals and Human Health
Chemicals and Health Organizations
RELATED NEWS ARTICLES
Congress is overhauling an outdated law that affects nearly every product you own (The Washington Post, 5-19-16)
The bizarre way the U.S. regulates chemicals — letting them on the market first, then maybe studying them (The Washington Post, 3-19-15)
Think Those Chemicals Have Been Tested? (New York Times, 4-13-13)