On May 22, 2013, a bipartisan coalition of 14 U.S. Senators announced agreement to introduce legislation to significantly alter the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the law regulating the manufacture and commerce of chemicals in the United States. The agreement was struck by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) and longtime proponent of reforming America's chemical laws, and Senator David Vitter (R-LA), the top Republican on the Senate EPW Committee. Senators Lautenberg and Vitter were joined by seven Republicans and seven Democrats in introducing this legislation, known as the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. This is the first bipartisan movement on TSCA reform in over 30 years.

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act would establish a priority system for reviewing chemicals before they can be used in commerce. Chemicals would be designated as either "high" or "low" priority based on level of risk to human health and the environment. If labeled "high priority," a chemical would be subjected to further study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which implements and enforces TSCA. The bill also gives the EPA substantial authority to regulate chemicals it determines to be unsafe, such as imposing labeling requirements or phasing out commercial use. In addition, EPA would be required to evaluate risks to vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and children, and use existing data to avoid duplicative testing. The proposal also includes new provisions for trade secrets and intellectual property.

This compromise was struck after Senator Lautenberg's original legislation, the Safe Chemicals Act, passed the Senate EPW Committee in 2012 on a party line vote but stalled in the full Senate in the face of substantial opposition from industry officials and Senate Republicans. While the bipartisan lineup of cosponsors is a welcome departure from partisan opposition faced by previous TSCA reform bills, Senate passage is not assured. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the chairman of the EPW Committee, is not a cosponsor of the bill and has not yet given a timeline for moving it through the committee. Furthermore, 21 Democratic senators who originally cosponsored the Safe Chemicals Act did not join Lautenberg and his seven Democratic colleagues in introducing the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. Nevertheless, the bill injects new life into the TSCA debate and the diverse, bipartisan coalition supporting the bill indicates that it will receive substantial attention in Congress this session.

Who is impacted by the Chemical Safety Improvement Act?

  • Any chemical processer, manufacturer or importer (particularly small- or medium-sized firms) who would need to conduct additional testing on new or existing products.
  • Any company that relies upon trade secret claims for the chemicals used in their products or processes.
  • Manufacturers who may come under increased scrutiny due to the chemicals they use.
  • Testing organizations, universities or private research firms that conduct chemical testing.
  • Any company that must comply with both United States regulatory requirements and those of other countries, including the European REACH program.

The bipartisan introduction of a TSCA Bill in the Senate represents significant progress towards statutory reform. The Senate will continue to modify the proposal through hearings, the committee amendment process and ultimate Senate action. The House of Representatives will have their say as well.