We Need A TSCA Reform Law That Preserves State Protections Until National Standards In Full Force

This month marks the 39th anniversary of the passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), our nation’s outdated and ineffective law for protecting the American public from toxic chemicals. Due to legislative hurdles in the law, of the 84,000 chemicals registered for use in the U.S., EPA has only been able to ban or restrict nine toxic chemicals since the law was passed in 1976.

Efforts in Congress over the past several years to reform TSCA are now culminating with the possibility that revised TSCA legislation will advance in the Senate next month. Though the current version of the Senate legislation has addressed some of the flaws raised by chemical safety and public health advocates in previous versions of the legislation, several problems remain.

Our country's primary chemical safety law was passed 39 years ago; we need an updated law that still allows states to protect their citizens.

Perhaps most significant of remaining concerns is language that prohibits states from adopting future toxic chemical safeguards even before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completes action to ensure that the public is adequately protected.

The chemical bisphenol A, better known as BPA, represents a case in point. BPA was identified by EPA more than five years ago as needing a priority health review due to its toxic effects on human reproduction and development. Studies have also linked BPA to heart disease, obesity, and asthma in children. Last year the agency included it in their updated list of priority chemicals for review.  In response to public health concerns, 10 states have passed legislation that bans the use of BPA in children’s products such as bottles, sippy cups, and food containers, and several major retailers have eliminated the use of BPA in the children’s products as well as the water bottles they sell. 

But EPA is expected to take several more years before they complete their assessment of BPA’s health risks and other states aren’t waiting for EPA to take action. Eight states have laws pending that would ban BPA in children’s products and in several states eliminate its use in receipt paper, a significant source of BPA exposure in adults. But if the current proposed Senate bill is adopted into law, state officials that attempt to protect their residents from BPA in the future would be prohibited from doing so once EPA started its assessment of BPA's hazards. The chemical industry lobbied intensely to ensure that restrictions on future state efforts to restrict toxic chemicals remain in the new TSCA legislation. Last month, attorneys general from the states of Washington, Vermont, New Hampshire and California wrote to Senate leaders voicing their concern and urging that the Senate bill drop this “regulatory pause”. 

The Senate should adopt the House bill’s provision that would allow states to protect citizens from chemicals while EPA conducts its assessment.

In contrast to the Senate bill, the House of Representatives passed a less complex version of TSCA reform legislation in June by an overwhelming 398 to 1 vote.  While both the House and Senate bills would prevent states from adopting new safeguards once EPA has completed its assessment process, the Senate bill creates what will likely be a multi-year gap in states' ability to protect its citizens while EPA undertakes its chemical reviews. Ideally states should always have the option of establishing more protective health and safety standards than those set by the national government. However of the two TSCA reform bills now likely to be considered by Congress, the House legislation is a much more reasonable, common-sense approach to addressing new state standards than the Senate bill, which would hold the health of the American people hostage to the historically glacial pace of EPA’s scientific review and the rule development process.

For additional reading:

Reducing Our Exposure to Toxic Chemicals: Stronger State Health Protections at Risk in Efforts to Reform Federal Chemical Law, http://www.foreffectivegov.org/reducing-chemical-exposure

Senate Committee Fails to Fix Flawed Chemical Bill, http://www.foreffectivegov.org/blog/senate-committee-fails-fix-flawed-chemical-bill

Note: The original article was revised on November 4.


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