Earlier this week, the US House approved a bill by an overwhelming majority that will significantly reform the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. The "Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act," H.R. 2576, is a landmark overhaul of chemical regulation that will give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to regulate hazardous chemicals. The American Chemistry Council lauded the House’s passage of the bill, stating on its website that “U.S. manufacturers and America’s consumers can take heart that a 21st century approach to managing chemicals is just steps away.”
EPA uses TSCA to oversee new and existing chemical substances, including industrial and consumer chemicals, nanoscale materials, and products of biotechnology and synthetic biology. But EPA has struggled to regulate hazardous chemicals under the existing law, particularly when compared to regulatory programs in other nations.
According to a June 2013 Government Accountability Office report, EPA has found it difficult to obtain adequate information on chemical toxicity and exposure because the current TSCA does not require companies to provide such information. Instead, the current TSCA requires EPA to demonstrate that chemicals pose certain risks before it can ask for such information. Under existing law, the agency has issued regulations to ban or limit production or use of only five existing chemicals or chemical classes out of the 84,000 chemical substances listed for commercial use. In addition, critics argue that EPA has not routinely challenged assertions by chemical manufacturers that information they provide to the agency is confidential and cannot be disclosed.
Under the revised legislation, EPA would be required to evaluate new and existing chemicals against a new risk-based standard that includes considerations for vulnerable populations. The agency would also gain authority to require the testing and information collection necessary to support those evaluations. The legislation would establish clear and enforceable deadlines that ensure both timely review of prioritized chemicals and timely action on identified risks. In addition, the legislation would increase the public transparency of chemical information by limiting unwarranted claims of confidentiality and allowing for the appropriate sharing of confidential information with States and health and environmental professionals. Finally, the legislation would provide a source of funding for EPA to carry out these responsibilities.
Federal preemption of state laws was a key point of discussion during the passage of the bill. The new legislation provides that if EPA decides a chemical does not present an unreasonable risk and requires no regulatory action, that decision preempts state laws that may contradict that finding. Any state statute or regulation in existence before April 22, 2016 is grandfathered and not subject to preemption.
The White House issued a statement on Monday saying that it strongly supports the revised legislation’s bipartisan and bicameral efforts, calling the bill a “clear improvement over the current TSCA” and “a historic advancement for both chemical safety and environmental law.”
The bill is due to be voted on by the Senate this week. If passed, EPA would be required to issue new regulations after public notice and comment.