Manufacturers Must Test Chemical Safety in New TSCA Bills

U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) on April 15 released the text of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, a bill aimed at protecting the health of families and the environment. U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) released a discussion draft of the House version of the measure.

The measure would update the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, according to Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health.

“America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken,” he said. “Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe. My 'Safe Chemicals Act' will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to get tough on toxic chemicals. Chemical safety reform is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a common-sense issue and I look forward to building bipartisan support for this measure.”

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 requires safety testing of all industrial chemicals and puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order stay on the market. Under current policy, the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances.

The text of the new bill can be found on Lautenberg's Web site. According to the senator's press release, the act:

  • requires manufacturers to develop and submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, while also preventing duplicative or unnecessary testing.
  • prioritizes chemicals based on risk.
  • places the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their chemicals. All uses must be identified and determined safe for the chemical to enter the market or continue to be used.
  • requires EPA to take fast action to reduce risk from chemicals that have already been proven dangerous. In addition, the EPA Administrator is given authority to act quickly if any chemical poses an imminent hazard.
  • establishes a public database to catalog the information submitted by chemical manufacturers and the EPA’s safety determinations. The EPA will impose requirements to ensure the information collected is reliable.
  • establishes grant programs and research centers to foster the development of safe chemical alternatives, and brings some new chemicals onto the market using an expedited review process.

According to Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, “The Safe Chemicals Act goes a long way toward bringing chemical policy into the 21st century. We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen the bill to keep dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace.”

While supporting the legislation, the coalition called for improvements in three critical areas. As currently drafted, the legislation would:

  • allow hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring them to be shown to be safe.
  • not provide clear authority for EPA to immediately restrict production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals, which already have been extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world, and.
  • not require EPA to adopt the National Academy of Sciences’ recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when determining the safety of chemicals, although the Senate bill does call on EPA to consider those recommendations.

“We applaud Senator Lautenberg and Congressmen Waxman and Rush for introducing legislation that would dramatically improve our nation’s chemical safety system,” said Richard A. Denison, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Their continued leadership will be vital, however, to make several needed improvements in the bill as it moves through the legislative process, to ensure it delivers on its promise to implement a safety system that truly protects all Americans.”

Environmental justice groups applauded in particular the provisions mandating EPA to develop action plans to reduce the disproportionately high exposures to toxic chemicals in some communities.

“There are many communities, especially communities of color, tribal lands, and low-income communities, where people are dying at extraordinary rates because of toxic chemical exposure. This bill, for the first time, would give EPA authority to identify these communities and protect them from major sources of toxic chemicals,” said Mark Mitchell, MD, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.

In contrast, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates issued the following statement: "SOCMA supports efforts to promote the health and environment of all Americans and agrees that now is the time to reform the decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). We are pleased to see that this bill makes an effort to address the need to prioritize chemicals, reduce animal testing, share information with state governments, and protect our country’s most vulnerable groups, including children.

"However, the Safe Chemicals Act overreaches in its attempt to impose a new approach to regulating chemicals. The requirement that no less than 300 chemical substances be on the priority list at any given time is overly prescriptive. We have serious reservations with the minimum data set requirement and extending it to all new uses of existing chemicals. We also have concerns with the expansion of the safety standard to industrial chemicals. This would create major challenges for SOCMA members, many of whom manufacture intermediates for which there may be limited exposures and many possible uses that are sometimes unknown to the manufacturer.

“Both of these issues would prove to create a highly burdensome and time-consuming process that would negatively impact innovation, which is paramount to ensuring the ability to develop safer chemicals. Any enhancement to TSCA should consider how the costs and delays associated with increased data submission requirements could impair the industry’s ability to innovate or jeopardize the sustainability of the chemical industry.

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