Our new report looks at the failures of the Toxic Substances Control Act and the starkly different Senate bills that attempt to fix them.
In 1976, the United States enacted the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to address public concerns about the impact of a growing number of untested chemicals on human health.
The law tasks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with identifying potentially dangerous chemicals, gathering information from the manufacturers of chemicals in commercial use, and issuing rules to reduce or eliminate their risks to human health and the environment.
For almost 40 years, this federal law has been the lynchpin of our nation’s chemical safety policy, and it has failed to protect the American people from being exposed to thousands of chemicals in commercial use that are known to cause harm to humans.
At least 84,000 chemicals are registered for commercial use in the U.S. today. EPA has required testing for only about 250 of them and has banned or placed restrictions on only nine.
The law was written in a way that severely limits EPA’s ability to regulate chemicals. And even the modest work EPA has done is constantly opposed and challenged in court by large chemical companies and their trade associations.
With chemical company lobbyists blocking efforts to establish stronger federal protections, states have stepped up and taken the lead: 38 states have established more than 250 laws or rules regulating the use of toxic substances. And 20 state legislatures are currently considering almost 75 new proposed chemical safety policies.
But testing and restricting chemicals is resource-intensive work, and many states do not have the funds, expertise, or will to do it. More federal oversight is needed.
Two Different Directions for Chemical Safety Reform
Recently, two bills demonstrating very different approaches were introduced in the Senate. A bill introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) would enable EPA to quickly assess the safety of more chemicals and allow the adoption of new state policies. The other bill, introduced by Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA), would undermine states’ authority to protect their own residents from chemicals while providing only modest improvements to national chemical policy.
Our interactive maps show how various Toxic Substances Control Act reform proposals could undermine efforts to safeguard state and local residents from toxic chemicals.
“The public interest community and champions in Congress have been calling for more restrictions on toxic chemicals for years. With a growing body of research documenting the devastating health impacts of chemical exposure, especially on infants and children, the urgency to improve our safety standards is increasing.”
– Katherine McFate, President and CEO of the Center for Effective Government
The Center for Effective Government strongly urges Congress to adopt a revised Toxic Substances Control Act that:
- Strengthens federal law but preserves the right of state and local governments to regulate chemicals of concern with policies that meet or exceed federal minimums;
- Enables governments at all levels to identify and prioritize chemicals of concern and establishes their authority to address the most problematic chemicals;
- Requires the chemical industry to provide regulatory agencies with the information they need to determine whether a chemical is safe; and
- Requires manufacturers to report health and exposure information about the chemicals they use to regulators, businesses, and the public.