U.S. EPA would be given broad new authorities to target chemicals of concern and to regulate new and existing chemicals under legislation introduced today by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
The bill, called the "Safe Chemicals Act," would for the first time reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, to require manufacturers to provide information about chemicals in consumer products instead of presuming substances are safe until proven dangerous.
"America's system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken," Lautenberg said in a statement. "Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children's bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals, and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe."
The legislation would require manufacturers to provide a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, and EPA would have the authority to request any additional data it deems necessary to make a safety determination. At the same time, the bill seeks to avoid unnecessary or duplicative testing requirements.
EPA would also be required to prioritize chemicals based on that data set, looking at both exposure and hazard characteristics. The bill would instruct EPA to take quick action on those chemicals that clearly demonstrate high risk, and manufacturers would have to prove that a chemical is safe to keep it on the market.
EPA would be instructed to create a public database containing information about each chemical and EPA actions on that chemical, and the legislation would restrict which data can be claimed by industry to be confidential.
The bill also seeks to promote green chemistry by establishing a program to develop incentives for companies to make and use safer alternatives to some chemicals.
The key provisions in the bill largely mirror recommendations outlined by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson last year, and at least in principle, they echo the reforms called for by environmental and health safety advocates.
"I'm really thrilled to know that today, today as we all sit here, in Congress for the first time we're going to see the introduction of a modern TSCA act, a brand new environmental law to deal with chemicals that are finding their way into our bodies, into our environments," Jackson said at a Washington, D.C., water conference today.
Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund and part of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, said the new bill represents a "sea change" from how TSCA currently manages chemicals.
"Most of the elements that our coalition has called for are in the bill, at least in skeletal form, and we think it provides a very good framework for advancing the debate on TSCA reform," Denison said. "There are several places where we're going to be seeking greater clarification or authority for EPA, however."
For example, Denison pointed to an exemption for how new chemicals are initially assessed within the principle requiring that manufacturers prove that a chemical is safe to keep it on the market. "This provision was one the industry sought to allow a chemical onto the market and then later assess it's safety," Denison said. "We think it's counterproductive."
Cal Dooley, the president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, also highlighted areas his group will target as the bill moves forward, expressing concern about proposed changes to EPA's new chemicals program, as well as a provision allowing state pre-emption.
"[W]e are concerned that the bill's proposed decision-making standard may be legally and technically impossible to meet," Dooley said in a statement. "The proposed changes to the new chemicals program could hamper innovation in new products, processes and technologies. In addition, the bill undermines business certainty by allowing states to adopt their own regulations and create a lack of regulatory uniformity for chemicals and the products that use them."
Click here to read the bill.
Reporter Robin Bravender contributed.