A bipartisan path forward to reform U.S. chemical safety law

May 22, 2013
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org
Richard Denison, 202-572-3348, rdenison@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – May 22, 2013)  Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today welcomed the introduction of bipartisan legislation that would significantly strengthen health protections for American families.

The bill, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, would modernize the nearly 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) to bring chemical management into the 21st century.

The bill’s lead sponsors, Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and David Vitter (R-LA), have forged a compromise that, on balance, would give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the tools it needs to address the risks chemicals pose to health.

“This bill is both a policy and political breakthrough,” said Dr. Richard Denison, EDF Senior Scientist.  “It gives EPA vital new tools to identify chemicals of both high and low concern, and to reduce exposures to those that pose health risks. While certainly not perfect, it embodies a hard-fought compromise that opens a bipartisan path forward to fix our badly outmoded system to ensure the safety of chemicals in everyday use.”

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act would for the first time require that EPA review the safety of all chemicals in commerce. This fixes a significant flaw in current TSCA, which allowed the great majority of chemicals on the market today to be grandfathered in without any evidence of their safety. 

EPA would also be able to act more quickly and easily to close the huge safety data gaps on chemicals in use today. For the first time, EPA would be able to issue orders to require testing of chemicals, avoiding the prolonged and resource-intensive rulemaking process and court challenges – barriers that have meant EPA has been able to require testing on only a few percent of chemicals in use.

The bill would also ensure that more of that new information about chemical safety will enter the market and the public realm, to inform the thousands of daily decisions made by both companies that make and sell products and by consumers. The bill would significantly tighten conditions under which chemical companies can hide information from the public.

There are some deficiencies in the legislation, according to EDF. The bill contains too few deadlines by which EPA needs to initiate and complete actions.  Also, while EPA would be required to consider the heightened vulnerability of some subpopulations (including infants and children), EPA would have only limited means to address disproportionately high chemical exposures experienced by residents in many communities in America.

On balance, however, EDF is urging support for the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. 

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