Will Chemical Safety Law Be Better?

In the coming months, congressional negotiators will try to reconcile two bills aimed at fixing the nation's broken and outdated chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act.

As we’ve made clear time, time and time again, neither bill will fix what ails TSCA – a law so broken that the Environmental Protection Agency has only been able to regulate five chemicals since 1976.

The real question is whether the final bill will be any better than current law. That's a low bar, but Congress may not clear it.

Here are seven things Congress should do to make TSCA better than current law:

  • Preserve a leading role for the states. For decades, states have been the only cops on the chemical safety beat, regulating scores of chemicals and driving marketplace innovation. Legislation that claims to be better than current law would clearly preserve all existing state laws, permit state action until an EPA rule is final and preserve a state’s ability to act under its own clean air and water laws.
  • Provide adequate funding. Even the best law will be meaningless if EPA doesn’t have the funding needed to review the hundreds of dangerous chemical already on the market. To make TSCA better than current law, Congress should provide enough funding to review the most dangerous chemicals in a generation – not a century. The chemical industry is reaping record profits and can certainly afford to share the cost of regulation.
  • Eliminate cost from consideration. Both bills purport to end the current requirement to consider the cost of regulation when considering whether to regulate, but each includes poison pill provisions that could keep EPA tied in legal knots.  Using the same tough safety standard that is already applied to pesticides and food chemicals makes more sense, but negotiators should at least strike vague requirements that rules be "cost-effective” or “appropriate.” Most importantly, new chemicals must be proven safe before they are allowed on the market.
  • Review bad chemicals. This seems like a no-brainer, but it remains to be seen whether EPA will have authority to review the most dangerous chemicals – or just those the industry would like reviewed. A better law would ensure that EPA evaluates the chemicals that cause cancer or build up in our bodies first.
  • Act fast. It’s taken a decade to "reform" a broken law by producing two bad bills, so acting fast is a new concept for Congress. A law that ensures that the most dangerous chemicals are quickly assessed – and has real deadlines for EPA and for company compliance – would be a breakthrough.
  • More data, please. EPA cannot review dangerous chemicals without data, so an updated version of TSCA must give EPA broad authority to demand chemical testing without having to first show a chemical is unsafe. And a better law would require companies to tell EPA which chemicals they are actually using. 
  • No secret chemicals. Strict limits are needed on what the chemical industry can keep secret, such as the identity of chemicals in health and safety studies. There should be strict deadlines for companies to ask EPA permission to keep certain manufacturing practices secret, and old "trade secret" claims should be reviewed again. If there’s any doubt about a chemical’s safety, EPA should be able to review these claims.

To see EWG’s letter to congressional conferees addressing these and other issues, click here.

Disqus Comments

Related News

Continue Reading