New draft legislation in the House of Representatives could lead the way out of a political snarl that for years has stalled Congress’s efforts to modernize the federal law governing commercial chemicals. The chemical industry is backing the draft bill, and environmental groups say that with a few changes they too could support it.
Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), who on April 7 unveiled the draft measure to reform the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), says, “I believe that this is the year we can finish the job.”
Shimkus’s draft bill omits controversial provisions—notably one that would override state chemical laws—found in Senate legislation (S. 697) to revise TSCA.
The American Chemistry Council and other chemical industry groups say the draft represents progress toward finding common ground on key issues in the long debate on TSCA reform.
The approach reflected in the draft bill “holds some promise,” says Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of environmental and public health organizations. But it “would allow a major risk—such as a chemical that causes cancer or birth defects—to remain unmitigated if it was deemed too expensive to do so.”
The draft measure would give EPA the authority to order manufacturers to conduct toxicity testing and exposure analyses for chemicals currently on the market and for which little data exist. But the draft bill contains what some see as a catch-22 provision that would require EPA to demonstrate potential risk or high exposure before it could order the studies.
At a House hearing last week, some witnesses raised concerns about a provision in the draft that would allow manufacturers to ask EPA to review the safety of a chemical on the market. The agency would have to conduct the review within six months if industry paid for it. “This could result in evaluations for the chemicals with the most potential for risk being put off indefinitely while EPA works on the evaluations requested by industry,” said James Jones, EPA assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention.