Chemical legislation faces revamp

C&I Issue 24, 2009

Resolve is hardening in the US to revamp and strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, Lisa Jackson, told a Senate Committee that the Act was ‘outdated’ and did not have the tools to protect the general public and environment. Jackson’s attempt to upgrade the Act is supported by industry and the American Chemical Council (ACC) is backing the EPA’s efforts.

At the Senate hearing Jackson painted a picture of TSCA as toothless and unfit for purpose. She told committee members that during the 33 years TSCA has been in force, the EPA has only been able to compel chemical companies to carry out tests on around 200 chemicals produced or used in the US. Only five chemicals have been subject to TSCA controls in the Act’s lifetime (C&I 2009, 6, 6). ‘Though many of these chemicals likely pose little or no risk, the story is clear – we’ve only been able to effectively regulate a handful of chemicals and we know very little about the rest,’ she adds.

The US Government Audit Office (GAO) backed up Jackson’s claims, after its investigation into TSCA found that the EPA lacked scientific information on many chemicals. The GAO report notes that chemical companies are not required to test the 700 new chemicals brought to market each year, and few perform toxicity tests voluntarily. TSCA is also crippled by an unreasonably high legal threshold, making banning or otherwise regulating a chemical a long, slow and difficult process. The report points to a 1989 ruling phasing out most uses of asbestos, which was largely overturned on appeal in 1991.

Jackson reiterated six areas of TSCA that the EPA believes needs revision – several of which will sound eerily familiar to those acquainted with REACH. The modernised law would see chemical safety reviewed against the best available science, while ensuring that responsibility for generating safety data rests on industry – not the legislator. It would also give the EPA the authority to act quickly to control chemicals, particularly where vulnerable groups, such as children, are at risk. The other three main action points on the EPA’s wish list include speeding up chemical safety reviews, encouraging the uptake of green chemistry and getting the chemical industry to foot the bill for some of the Agency’s costs.

In coming weeks, Senator Frank Lautenberg, chairman of the Environment and Public Works committee, now plans to introduce legislation to strengthen TSCA. ‘Our bill will put the burden of proving chemical safety where it belongs: on chemical companies,’ Lautenberg says. ‘Instead of waiting for a chemical to harm someone’s health, it will require companies to prove that their products are safe.’

Cal Dooley, president and ceo of the ACC, responding to the Senate Committee hearing, says that the six action points ‘reflect substantial agreement with industry’s principles’.

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