Are safer toxic chemicals policies on the horizon?
EDF senior scientist Richard Denison, Ph.D. has long worked to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act.
This law fails to protect Americans from thousands of unregulated chemicals, some of which are known to be toxic to human health—but many more of which have never been tested for safety.
TSCA limits the Environmental Protection Agency from sharing information needed to understand the actual or potential risks posed by chemicals, and it imposes a nearly impossible burden on the agency to prove actual harm in order to restrict or replace a dangerous chemical.
As a result, it provides no incentive for the chemical industry to innovate toward safer chemical and product design.
Moving toward a solution
Now Denison’s efforts and those of his colleagues are bearing fruit: In the spring of 2013, the U.S. Senate took several key steps toward modernizing TSCA.
First, in April 2013, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act.
Then, in a surprise move in May 2013, Senators Lautenberg and David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act with strong bipartisan support.
A bill with strengths and weaknesses
EDF views this bill as a compromise that has strengths and weaknesses (see our full position statement [PDF]).
It would give the EPA critical tools it needs to significantly strengthen health protections for American families.
Notable improvements to TSCA in the bill include:
- mandating safety evaluations for all chemicals in active commerce,
- requiring new chemicals to be deemed likely safe before entering the market,
- fixing the key flaws in TSCA’s safety standard that led to EPA’s inability even to ban the deadly carcinogen asbestos,
- allowing EPA to issue orders to require testing without the catch-22 of first having to show potential risk, and
- making more information about chemicals available to states, health professionals and the public by limiting current trade secret allowances.
For EPA to be able to effectively and efficiently utilize these tools, however, significant changes to the legislation are needed. EDF is working with other health and environmental organizations to push for revisions, such as:
- adding more deadlines and significantly trimming back the bill’s extensive procedural requirements to ensure EPA expeditiously initiates and completes actions,
- defining and explicitly protecting vulnerable populations, including infants and children and workers, as well as “hotspot” communities that have disproportionately high exposure to chemicals,
- providing EPA with adequate resources to carry out its responsibilities, with a fair share coming from industry,
- narrowing the bill’s preemption of state authority to ensure that states can act when EPA does not, and
- ensuring low-priority designations of chemicals are based on sufficient hazard and exposure information and that such designations do not preempt state authority.
EDF is urging Congress to make the needed improvements and advance the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, which represents the first real chance in nearly 40 years to enact a law that would fix the biggest flaws of TSCA.
We need to shift the paradigm from assuming chemicals are safe unless proven dangerous, to requiring evidence of safety.Dr. Richard Denison EDF senior scientist
Learn more about the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 (S.1009)
Read Richard Denison's House Hearing testimony [PDF] from November 2013
Read EDF’s position statement [PDF] on the Chemical Safety Improvement Act
Read Richard Denison's recent blog post: Senate hearing builds momentum for improving and moving the Chemical Safety Improvement Act
Listen to Richard Denison on NPR's On Point (May 30, 2013)
Read EDF's side-by-side comparison [PDF] to learn about some of the key enhancements to TSCA proposed by the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, as well as some of its serious shortcomings
Take action on toxics today
You shouldn't need a Ph.D. in chemistry to make safe purchases at the checkout counter.
But America's toxic chemicals law is badly broken. You can help change that. Join with EDF!