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.

Towards a solution

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 introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act with strong bipartisan support.

EDF views this bill as a compromise that has strengths and weaknesses (see our full position statement [PDF]). It would give the Environmental Protection Agency (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 professional s 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 shares concerns about the bill raised by other health and environmental organizations, and is working to address them, including by:

  • 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.

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.
More recently, EDF's chemicals blog has provided our perspective on current issues and recent developments on chemicals policy reform.

EDF partners with state and national groups to press for reform

We are also engaged in efforts at the state and federal level to develop and enact comprehensive chemicals policy reform.

Legislative History

For additional recent updates, please see our expert blog, EDF Health.


11/13/13
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.

5/22/2013
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.

4/10/2013
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.

7/25/2012
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.

4/14/2011
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.

More video

July 29, 2010 hearing

Key EDF documents