In 1976, Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a law aimed at protecting people and the environment from harmful chemicals. The intent of this law was to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate unsafe substances; however, in reality, TSCA gave the EPA very limited ability to effectively regulate toxic chemicals. TSCA is outdated and broken.
The authority that TSCA provided EPA was so constrained that the EPA has restricted only five chemicals in the past 39 years! In fact, in the 1980s, EPA attempts to regulate asbestos, a known human carcinogen, were unsuccessful. The industry sued and the EPA lost in court because the burden of proof of harm required by TSCA is so high.
One of the major problems with TSCA is that it puts the burden of proof on government not manufacturers. Under TSCA, manufacturers do not have to prove that chemicals or products are safe. Government has to prove that chemicals are unsafe, and they are able to do so only after they are in use and have caused harm. EPA’s resources to do testing are limited, and so the agency has only tested about 200 of the 85,000 chemicals used in the United States.
Real reform is needed
The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow has been working with Safer Chemicals Healthy Families to reform TSCA. A true reform to TSCA would include:
- Requiring EPA to identify and restrict the “worst of the worst” chemicals, those that persist and build up in the food chain;
- Requiring basic health and safety information for all chemicals as a condition for entering or remaining on the market;
- Reducing the burden of toxic chemical exposures on people of color and low-income and indigenous communities;
- Upgrading scientific methods for testing and evaluating chemicals to reflect best practices called for by the National Academy of Sciences; and
- Generally providing EPA with the tools and resources it needs to identify and address chemicals posing health and environmental concerns.
In 2010 Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) filed the Safe Chemicals Act which would have accomplished these goals. Unfortunately that bill was not brought for a vote.
TSCA Reform in 2016: Not real reform
In 2015, two bills were introduced in Congress to reform TSCA.
S.697, introduced by Senators Udall (D-NM) and Viter (R-LA), passed the Senate on December 17, 2015.
H.R. 2576, The TSCA Modernization Act of 2015, was introduced by Rep. Shimkus (R-IL) and passed the House on June 23, 2015.
Each bill contains some positive elements, but each bill also contains serious flaws that undermine the protection of public health. Simply put, these new industry-supported bills would fail to ensure that chemicals are safe, fail to set meaningful deadlines for safety reviews, fail to provide EPA with adequate resources and deny states the ability to protect public health and the environment.
What’s happening today:
Members of Congress from both the House and Senate are meeting in informal conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two chambers’ versions, each of which contain both critical improvements– and flaws. Our leaders in Washington now have the rare opportunity – and responsibility, after 40 years of inactivity – to ensure we are protected from the calamity and suffering that comes from daily, preventable toxic chemical exposure.
The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, and many others across the country are working to see that the final bill that passes does the most it possibly can to protect public health.
The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow joined with 124 other organizations across the country in signing a letter to conference committee members spelling out in detail how the “best of both” TSCA bills emerging from the House and Senate could be combined.
In January, 2016, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined 11 other state attorneys general in signing a letter urging Congress to keep a strong role for state governments to act on dangerous chemicals.
And across the country, advocates have been taking to the media to call for real reform. In Massachusetts, an Op-ed by Clean Water Action’s New England Director; Cindy Luppi outlined the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow position on the pending bills.
Content for this article was provided by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families