Chemicals policy reform
Our nation's main statute governing chemicals policy — the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) — is seriously flawed and needs fundamental reform.
Unlike every other major environmental law, the statute has never been significantly amended since it was adopted, in 1976.
TSCA is badly broken and fails to ensure chemical safety in the U.S.
Specifically, the statute:
- has failed to deliver the information needed to identify unsafe — as well as safer — chemicals,
- forbids the federal government from sharing much of the limited information it does obtain,
- imposes a nearly impossible burden on government to prove actual harm in order to control or replace a dangerous chemical and
- thereby perpetuates the chemicals industry's failure to innovate toward inherently safer chemical and product design.
The Solution: The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act
Congress has the best chance in a generation to protect our health by bringing our nation’s main chemical safety law into the 21st century. After years of debate and inaction, a bipartisan group of Senators has introduced legislation – the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – that fixes the biggest problems with our current law. Rare political circumstances have opened a narrow window to pass meaningful reform that protects the health of American families.
- All parties agree we need a new law. Our broken law doesn’t work for anyone: not for the public, for consumers or for business. After years of denial, many companies are now willing to accept more regulation to secure a predictable system that restores consumer confidence in the safety of their products.
- The problem requires a federal solution. With tens of thousands of chemicals in use today, the problem is much too big for individual consumers, product companies, retailers or states to handle on their own. We need a robust national program, rather than the current piecemeal approach that leaves many without any protections whatsoever.
- Congress can get this done. This legislation is built on a bill introduced by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Sen. David Vitter in 2013. Since its introduction, negotiations led by Sen. Tom Udall and Sen. Vitter have yielded a much-improved bill that represents a major advance over current law and enjoys the strong bipartisan support needed to actually become law.
The bill would update the current law and give EPA the tools necessary to ensure the safety of chemicals and significantly strengthen health protections for American families. Notably, the bill:
- Mandates safety reviews for all chemicals in active commerce.
- Requires a safety finding for new chemicals before they can enter the market.
- Replaces TSCA’s burdensome cost-benefit safety standard—which prevented EPA from banning asbestos—with a pure, health-based safety standard.
- Explicitly requires protection of vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.
- Gives EPA enhanced authority to require testing of both new and existing chemicals.
- Sets aggressive, judicially enforceable deadlines for EPA decisions.
- Makes more information about chemicals available, by limiting companies’ ability to claim information as confidential, and by giving states and health and environmental professionals access to confidential information they need to do their jobs.
See here for a detailed analysis of the bill.
EDF reports spotlight urgent need for reform
Major advances in chemicals policies in other parts of the world are leaving the U.S. behind in the increasingly global chemicals economy. For more than a decade, EDF's experts have pressed for reform, issuing a series of groundbreaking reports and papers:
- Our 1997 report Toxic Ignorance [PDF] raised public awareness of how few widely used chemicals had been tested and how little public data were available.
- EDF's 2007 report Not That Innocent documented the urgent need for policy reform. Our analysis contrasted U.S. policies with those in Canada and the European Union and identifed "best practices" culled from all three systems that together create a vision for future U.S. chemicals policy.
- Our September 2008 report Across the Pond assessed one of the first impacts that the new European regulation called REACH will have on U.S. companies and chemicals: REACH's identification of "substances of very high concern."
- EDF scientist Richard Denison's paper Ten Essential Elements in TSCA Reform [PDF], published in January 2009 in the Environmental Law Reporter, laid out a blueprint for new legislation to replace the outmoded Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
EDF partners with state and national groups to press for reform
For additional recent updates, please see our expert blog, EDF Health.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (FRL21). EDF’s Dr. Richard Denison testified in support of this bipartisan bill.
Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act to Protect the Health of American Families (FRL21). An additional seven Democrats and eight Republicans are also original cosponsors of the bill. EDF supports this bipartisan effort as a solid compromise that fixes the biggest flaws with TSCA. See EDF’s factsheet and public statement on the bill.
The House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy held a hearing on a revised discussion draft of the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA). This updated draft incorporated a number of changes based on input received at a March 12 hearing held on the first draft. While progress has been made, EDF noted that the proposal still has significant shortcomings and called on all parties to continue negotiations toward an improved bill.
Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released a discussion draft of the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA). While EDF identified major concerns with this draft, it represented the first opening to advance bipartisan TSCA reform legislation in the House, adding momentum to ongoing parallel efforts in the Senate. EDF’s public statement on the draft can be found here.
The Environment and the Economy Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held an unusual hearing that focused on a Senate bill: the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013. The fourth in a series of House hearings on the need for TSCA reform, this one featured witnesses from EPA, industry, the environmental community and a law professor who examined strengths and weaknesses of the legislation. EDF’s Dr. Richard Denison testified on both the political opening the bill offers and the need for strengthening changes if it is to achieve the reforms it promises. An accompanying op-ed he wrote posted on TheHill.com argued for the need to seize this opportunity to fix the badly outdated and ineffective TSCA.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013, bipartisan TSCA reform legislation. The bill represents a political breakthrough that opens for the first time a viable bipartisan path forward for much-needed reform of TSCA. While the bill would give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) critical tools it needs to address risks that chemicals pose to health, for EPA to be able to effectively and efficiently utilize these tools, significant changes to the legislation are needed.
Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (NJ) and Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand (NY) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013. This bill, which has 27 additional co-sponsors, is the same bill that was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee in July 2012. It addresses the major problems with TSCA and has evolved from earlier versions to address concerns of the chemical and consumer product industries.
The Senate EPW Committee voted to approve the Safe Chemicals Act of 2012. The legislation would provide strong protections for public health and the environment, while reducing the burdens on regulated industry. The bill, introduced by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, garnered 29 additional co-sponsors.
Landmark legislation to overhaul outmoded chemicals policy was formally introduced by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg. The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 would address some of the major flaws of TSCA, and EDF and our partners promised a vigorous campaign to advance it.
EDF's Richard Denison testifies before a House subcommittee (February 2009) on the urgent need for chemical policy reform.
July 29, 2010 hearing
Key EDF documents
- Denison's 2013 testimony [PDF] at House Hearing on the Chemical Safety Improvement Act
- EDF's side by side comparison of TSCA and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act [PDF], including key enhancements and shortcomings
- EDF's position statement on the Chemical Safety Improvement Act [PDF] (September 2013)
- Denison's 2010 testimony [PDF] in support of TSCA reform legislation
- Denison's 2009 testimony [PDF] on the fundamental flaws of TSCA
- News release: Call for reform of U.S. toxics law (February 2009).
- Ten Essential Elements in TSCA Reform [PDF]: Steps for reform, published in the Environmental Law Reporter.
- Listen to our expert: Denison on Chicago Public Radio (10/20/2008).