Passing a strong new chemical safety law
President Obama signed the Lautenberg Act into law on June 22, 2016.
Our nation’s main law governing chemical safety — the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) — was seriously flawed and outdated. Until June 2016, the core provisions of the statute had never been amended since it was adopted, in 1976.
Our broken chemical safety system allowed tens of thousands of chemicals to remain on the market without any review of their safety and chemical companies to put hundreds of new chemicals on the market every year without any demonstration that they were safe. The government had to have evidence that a chemical posed a risk before it could require testing – creating a Catch 22. Even for chemicals known to be dangerous, the government was virtually powerless to do anything.
Finally, companies were given 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 solution: The Lautenberg Act
In 2016, Congress finally took action to better protect our health by adopting far-reaching reforms of TSCA. After years of debate and inaction, on June 22, 2016, President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act– a new law that fixes the biggest problems with the old law.
The Lautenberg Act gives 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 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.
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 providing our perspective on current issues and development on chemicals policy reform on EDF’s chemicals blog.
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 with this new law in place, we’re bringing U.S. chemicals policy into the 21st century.
The journey that ended with the Lautenberg Act signing on June 22, 2016 goes as far back as 2009.
News coverage of the law
- Obama Signs Bipartisan Chemical Safety Bill
USA Today, June 22, 2016
- Rare Bipartisan Bill to Make Household Goods Safer Becomes Law
Christian Science Monitor, June 22, 2016
- Obama Set to Sign Bipartisan Update of 1976 Toxic Substance Law
The New York Times, June 22, 2016
How the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act will protect the health of American families [PDF]
Steps for reform, published in the Environmental Law Reporter.