Main U.S. Toxics Law Failing to Ensure Safety of Thousands of Chemicals

February 26, 2009
Contact: 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:  Jennifer Andreassen, 202-572-3387, jandreassen@edf.org
 
(Washington, DC – February 26, 2009)  Congress urgently needs to reform the nation's main chemicals law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, because it has failed to ensure the safety of the tens of thousands of chemicals in commercial use and development.  That is the conclusion of expert testimony provided at a hearing held today in the U.S. House of Representatives by a scientist who recently advised the toxics office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
 
"It doesn’t take a scientist to realize that the Toxic Substances Control Act is badly broken," said Dr. Richard A. Denison, a senior scientist at Environmental Defense Fund and former member of the EPA's National Pollution Prevention and Toxics Advisory Committee (NPPTAC).  "The now-daily barrage of headlines about the dangers posed by yet another chemical used in common consumer products – like the toxic flame retardants used in furniture that virtually all Americans now carry in their bodies – is a direct manifestation of the utter failure of our current chemicals policy."
 
Denison testified before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  Other organizations testifying in support of major TSCA reform include the Learning Disabilities Association of America, the United Steelworkers and WE ACT for Environmental Justice (West Harlem Environmental Action).
 
"Congress needs to act now, lest the United States risk falling further behind the rest of the developed world, which has already taken steps to ensure the safety of the chemicals and chemical products we make and use every day," noted Denison.  "Without prompt action, we also risk becoming a dumping ground for unsafe products produced elsewhere in the world."
 
Citing EPA's inability to use TSCA to restrict even highly dangerous chemicals such as asbestos and formaldehyde, Denison's testimony enumerated the law's key structural flaws, including that it:
  • Fails to provide EPA with adequate authority to require companies to test their chemicals so that unsafe – as well as safer – chemicals can be identified;
  • Forbids EPA from sharing much of the limited chemical information it does obtain; and
  • Imposes an essentially impossible burden on EPA to prove actual harm before it can initiate any action to control or replace a dangerous chemical.
"Our outmoded policy is directly responsible for perpetuating a chemicals economy that is dysfunctional, ill-informed and unable to distinguish a dangerous chemical from a safe one," concluded Denison.  "A top-to-bottom overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act is essential to establish a market that is driven by knowledge rather than ignorance and uncertainty, and that rewards innovation toward safer chemicals and products."
 
Denison noted Environmental Defense Fund's support last year of the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act (H.R. 6100/S. 3040), which embodies the major elements of needed TSCA reforms.