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May 24, 2013
Major breakthrough in TSCA reform

Senate Republicans and Democrats, who have shown little inclination to come together on environmental policy, produced a surprise with bipartisan support of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 (CSIA).  The bill would reform significant deficiencies in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), particularly regarding authority of the EPA, the TSCA implementing agency, to evaluate the safety of existing chemicals.  Under the CSIA, the EPA would have new power to compel companies to provide health-related information about all the chemicals they manufacture, an avenue that is generally unavailable under current law. 

The CSIA is primarily the handiwork of Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who has been introducing bills to reform TSCA since 2005.  In the current session, he worked with Senator David Vitter (R-LA), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, on coming together on the CSIA.  Both New Jersey and Louisiana are among the leading states for chemical manufacturing.  Among the other 14 senators cosponsoring the bill are  Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), James Inhofe (R-OK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Susan Collins (R-ME).  The wide reach of that group across the political spectrum suggests that the CSIA has a better than average chance at Senate passage.

Enviros and industry on board

Prospects for the CSIA are also aided by support from both environmentalists and chemical industry associations.   “The CSIA takes a balanced, comprehensive approach to updating the law, which will give consumers more confidence in the safety of chemicals while at the same time encouraging innovation, economic growth and job creation by American manufacturers,” said Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council.  Other chemical organizations with a favorable view of the CSIA include the National Association of Chemical Distributors, the Consumer Specialty Products Association, and the American Cleaning Institute.

Dooley also expressed appreciation for the “tremendous work” of Lautenberg and Vitter to develop a solution that would be accepted by both industry and environmentalists.

“This bill is both a policy and political breakthrough,” said Dr. Richard Denison, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.  “It gives EPA vital new tools to identify chemicals of both high and low concern and to reduce exposures to those that pose health risks.”  Denison has led efforts to amend TSCA for many years, and his endorsement will likely assure virtually everyone in the environmental community that the bill is a step in the right direction.  Other steps would need to be taken, Denison adds, noting that the bill contains too few deadlines by which the EPA needs to initiate and complete actions.  Denison also believes that the bill does not give the EPA sufficient authority to address disproportionately high chemical exposures experienced by residents in many communities in the United  States.

Reform provisions

In contrast to existing law, the CSIA would:

  • Require safety evaluations for allactive chemicals in commerce.  The chemicals would be labeled as either high or low priority chemicals based on potential risk to human health and the environment.  For high priority chemicals, the EPA must conduct further safety evaluations.
  • Protect public health from unsafe chemicals.  The EPA would haveauthority ranging from required labeling to the full phaseout or ban of a chemical.
  • Prioritize chemicals for review.  The EPA wouldhave to transparently assess risk, determine safety, and apply any needed measures to manage risks.
  • Screen new chemicals for safety. New chemicals entering the market would have to be screened for safety; the EPA is given the authority to prohibit unsafe chemicals from entering the market.
  • Secure health and safety information. The legislation allows the EPA to secure necessary health and safety information from chemical manufacturers while directing the Agency to rely first on existing information to avoid duplicative testing.
  • Promote innovation and safer chemistry.   The legislation provides “clear paths” to getting new chemistry on the market and protecting trade secrets and intellectual property from disclosure, according to the sponsoring senators.
  • Protect children and pregnant women. The legislation requires the EPA to evaluate the risks posed to particularly vulnerable populations when evaluating the safety of a chemical.
  • Allow participation of states and municipalities. States and local governments would have the opportunity to provide input on prioritization, safety assessment, and the safety determination processes requiring timely response from the EPA.  The bill establishes a waiver process to allow state regulations or laws to remain in effect when circumstances warrant it.

Under current law, the EPA can call for safety testing only after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical may be dangerous.  As a result, the Agency has been able to require testing for only about 200 of the more than 84,000 chemicals currently registered in the U.S. and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances since TSCA was first enacted in 1976.

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