A new chemical safety law: The Lautenberg Act

President Obama signing The Lautenberg Act

Credit: Fred Watkins

On June 22, 2016 President Obama signed the Lautenberg Act to fix America's badly outdated chemical safety law.

For decades, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 had proven ineffective at ensuring the safety of the chemicals used in everything from household cleaners to clothing and couches.

The broken chemical safety system:

  • Allowed tens of thousands of chemicals to remain on the market without any review of their safety.
  • Let chemical companies put hundreds of new chemicals on the market every year without any demonstration that they were safe.
  • Required the government to have evidence a chemical posed a risk before it could require testing – creating a Catch 22.
  • Left the government virtually powerless to regulate even chemicals known to be dangerous.
  • Gave companies wide latitude to claim chemical information they submitted to the government to be trade secrets and hide it from the public and even from state and local governments and medical professionals.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act overhauled TSCA to better protect our health from untested or toxic chemicals used in everyday products and materials.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is systematically weakening the Environmental Protection Agency and working to dismantle chemical safety through its implementation of the new TSCA. Despite this, the law itself remains strong – and we are working to defend it at every step.

Notable improvements in the law

The Lautenberg Act gives the EPA the tools necessary to ensure the safety of chemicals and significantly strengthen health protections for American families. Notably, the law:

  • Mandates safety reviews for 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 the EPA from banning asbestos—with a pure, health-based safety standard.
  • Explicitly requires protection of vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.
  • Gives the EPA enhanced authority to require testing of both new and existing chemicals.
  • Sets aggressive, judicially enforceable deadlines for the 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.

The long road to reform TSCA

For more than a decade, EDF's experts pressed for reform, issuing a series of groundbreaking reports and papers and using EDF's chemicals blog to provide our perspective on current issues and developments on chemicals policy reform.

Major advances in chemicals policies in other parts of the world over the past few decades left the U.S. behind in the increasingly global chemicals economy. But this new law holds the promise of bringing U.S. chemicals policy into the 21st century – but only if it is implemented in a health-protective manner.

What's happening now

The Trump administration is stymieing or reversing progress made under the new law, setting back Congress’ bipartisan intent for stronger protections from toxic chemicals. EDF is fighting back by:

Media contact

Keith Gaby (202) 572-3336 (office)
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