EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson laid out new principles for revising the Toxic Substances Control Act in late September.

Momentum Builds for Meaningful TSCA Reform

The leaders of 13 states' environmental agencies issued an eight-point statement of principles Dec. 2 as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, shown here, testified at a U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing about the need to reform the law.

Two developments on Dec. 2 have encouraged backers of EPA's planned rewrite of the Toxic Substances Control Act that a meaningful reform is possible for the law, which is the key statute allowing the government to regulate industrial chemicals because of health risks they pose to the public. Chemical industry trade associations and public health officials support EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's plan for reforming the 1976 law, which has been little used by the agency since its ban on most uses of asbestos was blocked by a federal appeals court in 1991; since then, EPA has completed only one regulation to ban or limit production or use of an existing chemical: hexavalent chromium in 1990.

Jackson testified Dec. 2 about the need to reform the law at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., who chairs the committee's Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, said his reform bill will be ready soon. And the leaders of 13 states' environmental agencies issued an eight-point statement of principles for reforming the law.

The statement by representatives of state environmental agencies in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington lists eight principles that support the reform plan of the Obama administration and Lautenberg's outline. The main change in the law would require manufacturers of chemicals to prove they are safe before they are introduced in commerce, which is not required currently. The states' eight principles are:

  • Require chemical and product manufacturers to develop and report chemical health and safety information and exposure and use data
  • Require manufacturers to provide sufficient data to regulators to enable them to conclude new and existing chemicals products in commerce are safe
  • Prioritize chemicals of concern
  • Design chemical regulation to protect the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and children
  • Require manufacturers, based on green chemistry principles, to assess and identify safer alternatives to problematic chemicals of concern
  • Address emerging chemicals of concern, including nanoscale materials
  • Strengthen federal law but preserve states' authority to manage chemicals of concern
  • Fund state programs for implementing TSCA

"Often when government tries to write new laws or modernize old ones, there is resistance," Lautenberg said during the hearing. "But this is a case where everyone agrees on the need for change. We need to make good on this unique opportunity. That's why in the coming weeks, I plan to re-introduce legislation to strengthen our chemical laws. Our bill will put the burden of proving chemical safety where it belongs: on chemical companies. Instead of waiting for a chemical to harm someone’s health, it will require companies to prove that their products are safe before they end up in a store, in our homes, or in our bodies. We already regulate pesticides and pharmaceuticals this way -— it's just common sense that we do the same for chemicals that are used in everyday consumer products."

Jackson's testimony is here, and the testimony by Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of HHS' National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is here.

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