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TSCA reform crossed the finish line

After decades of negotiations, law that controls chemicals in the U.S. marketplace got a makeover

by Britt E. Erickson
December 14, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 49

It was an epic year for chemical regulation in the U.S. For the first time in nearly 40 years, both chambers of Congress agreed to update the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the law that governs chemicals used in household items and industrial products.

EPA’s new authority

Under the revised TSCA, the agency is required to do the following:

Update the federal inventory of chemicals in commerce to reflect only the substances that are currently in use.

Evaluate the safety of all chemicals currently in the marketplace, beginning with 10 high-priority substances. By the end of 2019, EPA must have at least 20 ongoing chemical evaluations. For each assessment it completes, the agency must begin a new one.

Determine that all new chemicals are safe before they hit the market.

The revised TSCA was enacted in June, setting the wheels in motion for EPA to evaluate throughout the next several years the safety of chemicals that are currently in the U.S. marketplace. As required under the new law, the agency chose the first 10 of these chemicals to assess in late November.

The new law gives EPA the authority to collect fees from industry to conduct safety evaluations. It also allows the agency to request safety data for new chemicals. Under the outdated 1976 TSCA, the agency had to first show that a chemical may pose a risk before asking industry to provide such data.

The chemical industry supported the overhaul of TSCA after years of negotiations, saying it would boost consumer confidence in the safety of chemicals in everyday products. “The path to more modern chemical regulation has been decades in the making, and it’s been over three years since work to achieve TSCA reform began in earnest,” Cal Dooley, CEO of the American Chemistry Council, said in June. “TSCA reform will have lasting and meaningful benefits for all American manufacturers, all American families, and for our nation’s standing as the world’s leading innovator,” he added.

Some environmental groups also supported the revised TSCA, but other activists said it doesn’t go far enough to protect human health. The new law improves the 1976 TSCA “in many ways and, depending on implementation by EPA, should do some good,” Andy Igrejas, national campaign director for the advocacy group, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said in June. “Unfortunately, it still goes backwards in a few important ways,” because of lobbying by the chemical industry, he noted. Igrejas and other activists are particularly concerned about provisions in the law that curb state authority over chemicals and weaken EPA’s ability to stop imports that contain toxic substances.


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