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An Evolving Debate

Industry is split on reform of U.S. chemical law

by Cheryl Hogue
August 10, 2009 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 87, ISSUE 32

Credit: Environmental Defense Fund
Credit: Environmental Defense Fund

The lines of debate on whether Congress should change the federal law governing the manufacture of chemicals used to be simple. Environmental and health advocates favored an overhaul of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and the chemical industry was against it.

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

But the discusion has evolved and shifted. Now, the biggest differences of opinion arguably may be within the chemical sector itself.

Last week, several groups staked out relatively detailed positions on what they want in TSCA reform. A sizable part of the chemicals sector is calling for significant modifications of that law, including some that are strikingly similar to what activists want. Others in the industry, meanwhile, remain against major changes.

Such positioning comes as Congress is showing an increased interest in overhauling TSCA (C&EN, March 9, page 24). In the coming weeks, the Obama Administration is expected to offer its position on revising that law.

The American Chemistry Council, an industry organization that represents many large chemical manufacturers, is calling for modernization of TSCA. This is needed, says Calvin M. Dooley, the group’s president and CEO, because the public doesn’t have confidence in the current U.S. chemical management system.

For instance, ACC wants Congress to change the law so that EPA is required to declare certain uses of commercial chemicals as safe. Currently, TSCA only authorizes the agency to examine whether a chemical could harm people or the environment.

Backing ACC’s positions are two trade groU.S.representing companies that are a key market for commercial sU.S.ances: the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA) and the Soap & Detergent Association.

In contrast, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, which represents many smaller companies, is against a major overhaul of the law. The organization suggests that Congress “preserve TSCA” by making only targeted updates as they are needed.

Meanwhile, a coalition of health and environmental groops called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is calling for a major rewrite of TSCA. The positions of these activists and of ACC are markedly similar on several issues, say Richard Denison, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, which is part of the coalition, and Christopher Cathcart, president and CEO of CSPA.

For example, the coalition and ACC generally agree on EPA being required to declare chemicals safe. But there are differences as well. In contrast to ACC’s position, activists want federal support for greener chemistry research as well as a national policy favoring more benign products over those posing potential health hazards.



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