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Chemical Reform Bill Unveiled

Senate: Breakthrough bipartisan proposal would update Toxic Substances Control Act

by Cheryl Hogue
May 24, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 21

Credit: United States Congress
Republican David Vitter of Louisiana
Credit: United States Congress

In a landmark political compromise, Senate Democrats and Republicans last week jointly introduced legislation aimed at ensuring that chemicals used in commerce are screened for safety—a test not required by current law. The bill (S. 1009) would rewrite the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a law that has remained virtually unchanged since Congress passed it in 1976. And the effort has support from the chemical industry and some environmental activists.

Credit: United States Senate
Democrat Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey
Credit: United States Senate

Under the proposed law, EPA would have to determine whether tens of thousands of substances on the market are either “high” or “low” priority for further EPA evaluation, on the basis of their potential risk to human health or the environment. Now, EPA’s ability to act against substances found to pose unreasonable risks is limited under TSCA. But the new bill would strengthen and clarify EPA’s authority, making it possible for the agency to ban substances outright.

Two senators from states with large chemical industries, Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and David Vitter (R-La.), hammered out the bill. It has the backing of 14 other lawmakers so far.

The measure is a “historic step toward meaningful reform that protects American families and consumers,” says Lautenberg, who has championed reform of TSCA since 2005.

“Our bill strikes the right balance between strengthening consumer confidence in the safety of chemicals while also promoting innovation and the growth of an important sector of our economy,” Vitter says. He is the top Republican on the Environment & Public Works Committee, which would play a vital role in moving the bill through the Senate.

The legislation represents a hard-fought compromise, says Richard A. Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, an activist group. “It opens, at last, a bipartisan path forward to fix our badly outmoded system to ensure the safety of chemicals in everyday use.”

The chemical industry also supports the measure. “We are reviewing the legislation, but, on its surface, the bill appears favorable to the concerns of specialty chemical manufacturers,” says William E. Allmond IV, a vice president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates.

The Lautenberg-Vitter bill is “a sensible, strong, and workable bipartisan solution to modernize TSCA,” says Calvin M. Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, an association of chemical manufacturers.


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