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Chemical Regulation

EPA in the hot seat on TSCA

Senators press chemical chief Freedhoff on slow review progress

by Leigh Krietsch Boerner
January 25, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 3


Black sign on the wall next to a wooden door with marble trim. Sign says "SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS HEARING ROOM SD 406."
Credit: Shutterstock
The location of a recent hearing on the Toxic Substances Control Act

Michal Freedhoff, the assistant administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, went before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 24 to talk about the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The chemical industry, activists, and both political parties are dissatisfied with the EPA’s slow pace in evaluating the safety of chemicals. In response, Freedhoff attributed the agency’s struggle to meet expectations to an insufficient budget.

The hearing came a few months after House Republicans slashed the EPA’s overall budget almost 40% in H.R. 4821, which sets funding for the US Interior Department. If the bill is enacted as is, the cut would return the agency’s budget to levels seen before TSCA reform passed in 2016 and seriously impair its risk evaluation of chemicals, Freedhoff said at the hearing.

“The House budget would take us back to the budget of the old law that didn’t do any of the things that the new law has told the agency to do,” she said. “So what it means is that the workers and communities who’ve been waiting for decades to get the protections they need will have to wait longer.”

The 2016 amendments require that the EPA have no fewer than 20 chemicals in review at all times and that compounds be reviewed 90 days before they are used. The EPA has finished 10 evaluations since 2016 and in December announced it was working on 5 more. They include vinyl chloride, a compound spilled in the 2023 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

At the hearing, Sens. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Pete Ricketts (R-NE) pointed out that vinyl chloride is widely used and expressed concern that the EPA could ban it without a suitable substitute. Freedhoff said the agency considers such factors later in its reviews. More broadly, she stressed that bipartisan support was key to passing TSCA reform in 2016 and will be crucial in ensuring that future chemical evaluations stay on track.



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