US House passes New TSCA Bill
The US House of Representatives has passed the long awaited update of the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) by a vote or 403 to12, winning broad support from the country’s two political parties. The legislation’s bipartisan authors called the passage a pragmatic, politically viable compromise between better environmental standards and the demands of industry.
In a country that has no such far-reaching legislation regulating chemicals as Europe’s REACH, the industry in the past has resisted tougher rules. More recently, however, producers organized in the American Chemistry Council have urged an update of the 1976 act, as companies are increasingly facing conflicting regulations passed by states but also set by large retailers.
The bill expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama as soon it is approved by the Senate, would authorize the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate an estimated 64,000 everyday chemicals used in applications from dry-cleaning to grease removal and paint thinners.
EPA would begin with a review of 10 chemicals at a time and eventually review 20 at a time, with each review possibly requiring three to 10 years. Some environmental and safety advocates have called for more chemicals to be reviewed at once, arguing that the agency would need too much time to work through a heavy backlog.
While most advocacy groups said the new law would result in at least minimal improvement in standards, the generally critical Environmental Working Group (EWG) complained that it blocks state governments from imposing rules before an EPA review is concluded.
EWG said the compromise would allow existing state laws to remain on the books and permit states to quickly act to regulate a chemical that EPA might deem a “high priority”. But it said, if a state fails to act quickly, any action would have to wait for up to three years while EPA completes its review. State laws are often more restrictive, thus driving market innovation, the group remarked.
Another critical point in EWG’s view is that the legislation does not require adequate funding from the chemical industry: “Even the best law will be meaningless if EPA doesn’t have the resources needed to review the hundreds of dangerous chemicals already on the market. To make TSCA better than the status quo, Congress should provide enough funding to review the most dangerous chemicals in a generation – not a century.”
The group criticized also that the bill would allow the chemical industry to determine half the substances to be assessed by EPA.
On a more positive note, EWG said it was pleased that the revised TSCA would require EPA to determine whether a chemical is likely to meet the safety standard before it enters the market. It also would give the agency “new tools” to collect data on chemicals and limit the ability of companies to keep data secret by requiring confidentiality claims to be regularly substantiated, including old trade secret claims.