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.

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.


Media contact

  • Keith Gaby
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    (202) 572-3336 (cell)
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Legislative History

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


5/14/15

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Environment and Economy passed a revised version of the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015

4/28/15

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a markup of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (FRL21). The EPW committee passed the bipartisan bill with a 15-5 vote. The amended bill gained the support of Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Tom Carper (D-DE) along with all of the Republicans on the committee. See EDF’s factsheet on the amended bill.  

4/14/15

The U.S. House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing on a “bipartisan discussion draft” of the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 released on April 7.

3/18/15

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.

3/10/15

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 (updated version above) and public statement on the bill.

Read the full legislative history »

EDF’s Richard Denison testifies before a House subcommittee (February 2009) on the urgent need for chemical policy reform.

Watch all videos on the EDF Health YouTube channel »