Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) welcomes today’s announcement by Senate and House negotiators that they are very near an agreement on chemical safety legislation, the Lautenberg Act. Last year, both chambers overwhelmingly passed bills to reform America’s badly broken chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Today’s announcement sets the stage for enactment of the most significant environmental legislation in more than two decades.
“Generations of American children have grown up without any real legal protection from toxic chemicals,” said Fred Krupp, President of EDF. “With today’s announcement, Congress is at last poised to adopt protections for children, pregnant women, workers and all Americans that are decades overdue.”
“This agreement will be a significant victory for public health,” said Dr. Richard Denison, EDF lead senior scientist. “The Lautenberg Act fixes the biggest problems with our current law—by requiring safety reviews for chemicals in use today, mandating greater scrutiny of new chemicals before they can be sold, removing the barriers that prevented EPA from banning asbestos and other harmful chemicals, enhancing transparency, and much more. While not perfect, this will be a dramatic improvement over current law. Congress should act fast to pass this legislation, so we can begin the process of restoring confidence in our chemical safety system.”
Science has linked chemicals used in everyday products such as household cleaners, clothing and furniture to serious illnesses, including cancer, infertility, diabetes and Parkinson’s. Yet TSCA hasn’t been updated for 40 years and is so weak that only a small fraction of the thousands of chemicals used in products have ever been reviewed for safety. The law leaves EPA virtually powerless to ensure the safety of common chemicals—or even to restrict known hazards, including asbestos, lead and formaldehyde. The failures of the current law have undercut consumer confidence in the safety of everyday products, leading many businesses to support a national system even if that means tougher regulation.
“Today’s announcement shows meaningful progress is still possible in Washington,” said Elizabeth Thompson, EDF Vice President for Political Affairs. “Solutions to big problems are not easy—they require collaboration, putting aside differences and working hard to find the common ground. The result of that hard work is going to be a major advance for public health.”
The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act would address critical flaws in TSCA. The Lautenberg Act is the product of three years of negotiations, begun by its namesake, the late public health champion Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). The House passed a streamlined bill in June of 2015 by a vote of 398-1, while the Senate passed broader legislation by unanimous voice vote in December 2015. The bill announced today reconciles those two bills.
The new bill will require safety reviews for all new and existing chemicals. It fixes the safety standard that prevented EPA from banning asbestos and other harmful chemicals. It gives EPA enhanced testing authority, sets aggressive deadlines for action, reins in chemical industry trade secret claims and broadens access to chemical safety information.
Once a final agreement is reached, the House is expected to pass the bill first, with the Senate to follow.
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