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Top Problems With the Two TSCA Bills

Monday, December 21, 2015

Consumers rightly expect that the chemicals used in everyday products are safe. Under current law, however, few are ever reviewed for safety.

Now that Congress has passed two bills seeking to update the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, it’s important to recall the problems with the House and Senate bills.

  • Chemicals Still Not Safe – Toxic chemicals that wind up in people’s bodies should be at least as safe as pesticides. But as a group of legal experts recently noted, neither bill includes the tough “reasonable certainty of no harm” safety standard that Congress applied to pesticides. Instead, both bills merely modify the current “unreasonable risk” standard that is so weak the Environmental Protection Agency was unable to ban asbestos.
  • Limits State Regulators – The Senate bill would place new hurdles in the path of state regulators who have taken steps to restrict scores of dangerous chemicals and driven market innovation. In particular, the Senate bill would “pause” new state regulations for up to two and a half years once the EPA begins to review a high-priority chemical – unless the agency grants a waiver. The House bill could block states from regulating new chemicals, even before EPA has completed a full safety assessment.
  • New Chemicals- Under current law, the EPA cannot ask for more information about a new chemical that is going to be manufactured or imported unless it can show the chemical poses an “unreasonable risk”—a determination that is difficult to make without additional information. While the Senate bill removes this catch-22, the House bill does not.
  • Slow Pace of Review – Neither bill requires enough reviews to get the most dangerous chemicals out of commerce. Under both, it would take more than a century to review the thousand most dangerous chemicals.
  • Inadequate Funding – Neither bill provides sufficient resources to quickly review the most dangerous chemicals. While the Senate bill requires industry to pay some fees, under the House bill reviews of the most dangerous chemicals would be at the mercy of Congressional appropriators. Both bills allow industry to pay to fast-track reviews of their favorite chemicals.
  • Deadlines for Action – The House bill does not set deadlines for companies to comply with new EPA rules. The agency could take up to seven years to consider how to regulate many high priority chemicals – and potentially give companies decades to actually restrict how they are used. By contrast, the Senate bill would require compliance with new regulations within four to five years.
  • Secret Chemicals – Although both bills allow limited disclosure of confidential business information to states and health professionals, the public could remain in the dark on the true nature of these chemicals for decades, as confidential designations remain in place for at least 10 years (or more, if renewed). Only the Senate bill allows EPA to require companies to resubstantiate their claims of confidentiality, including claims that predate the Act. The Senate bill also makes resubstantiation mandatory if EPA determines that a substance doesn’t meet the safety standard.  The House bill, however, doesn’t give EPA the authority to review information once it’s deemed confidential.  

Real reform would ensure that chemicals are safe, ensure that the most dangerous chemicals are quickly reviewed and regulated and preserve a role for state regulators.

 

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