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toxic chemicals

Chemical Safety Overhaul Passes Senate, Earns Industry Praise

toxic chemicalsThe Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) — the US’ primary chemical regulation — moved closer to getting a years-in-the-making overhaul late Thursday night as the US Senate approved the chemical safety bill.

The Senate passed the bipartisan Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act by a unanimous voice vote. It now goes to conference committee to be reconciled with the US House of Representatives’ chemical safety reform bill, which passed in June.

The 39-year-old TSCA is the last of the major environmental laws passed in the 1960s and ’70s that has not yet been modernized. This has led to uncertainty and varying restrictions at the state level and in the private sector, creating a chaotic marketplace for business, says Jack Pratt, the Environmental Defense Fund’s chemicals campaign director.

Since TSCA was enacted, the EPA has been able to restrict just five chemicals, and it has prevented only four chemicals from going to market — out of the more than 23,000 new chemicals manufactured since 1976 — according to Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), co-author of the new chemical safety bill.

The new bill gives the EPA greater authority and funding to regulate chemicals. It also gives the industry new protections against state regulations, which has earned it support from several trade organizations, all of which applauded the Senate’s vote.

Industry Praises Senate’s Vote

The Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), which represents hundreds of household brands including 3M, Procter & Gamble, BASF and Unilever, said the Senate’s passage of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21stCentury Act brings the US closer to having an effective, science-based chemical regulatory system that gives consumers confidence in the safety of the products they buy.

“For nearly a decade the Consumer Specialty Products Association has testified in support of strengthening the Toxic Substances Control Act and has offered input on the best way to modernize TSCA,” said Chris Cathcart, president and CEO of CSPA. “We are looking forward to working with the Senate and House bill authors to reconcile the two bills into legislation that has the support of a wide range of stakeholders and will be signed by President Obama.”

The American Chemistry Council said the bill “build confidence in the US chemical regulatory system and address the commercial and competitive needs of the US chemical industry and the national economy.”

And the National Association of Manufacturers said the bill will eliminate regulatory uncertainty. “Manufacturers have long been vocal advocates for these essential reforms that strengthen and modernize outdated environmental regulations,” said NAM vice president of energy and resources policy Ross Eisenberg. “This real reform will enable manufacturers to further improve products while growing the economy and creating jobs. Manufacturers urge congressional negotiators to resolve this legislation quickly.”

But despite the bipartisan and industry support, much work still must be done to reconcile the two bills, Keith Matthews, an attorney at Sidley Austin LLP and former director of the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division in the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, told Environmental Leader.

Much Work to Be Done on Final Bill

First off, the House bill, at 46 pages, is much less detailed than the Senate bill, which is more than three times as long as its counterpart.

“While the House bill grants EPA new authority to act in certain areas, the Senate bill to a much greater extent directs EPA’s future actions,” Matthews says. “Still to be determined is which approach will predominate in a final bill.”

The two bills contain significant differences in the prioritization of chemicals and supportive funding for the agency’s regulatory activities.

“The Senate bill establishes a multi-stage process for EPA to prioritize the chemicals that must be assessed — of over 86,000 ‘existing chemicals,’ it is thought that approximately 1,000 are of sufficient concern to require comprehensive risk assessment,” Matthews says. “The Senate bill requires EPA to designate ‘high priority’ and ‘low priority chemicals. EPA is to designate 10 high priority chemicals and 10 low priority chemicals within 180 days of enactment; within three years, EPA is to have either completed or have in process 20 high priority chemical risk assessments; this number increases over time.”

Meanwhile, the House bill expands the EPA’s authority to require testing, but does not specify a mechanism for priority setting.

Similarly, the Senate bill requires the EPA to establish “reasonable fees” for manufacturers and processors taking action under TSCA while the House bill says the EPA may require such fees. “All in all, the Members still have a significant amount of work ahead in crafting the final bill,” Matthews says.

Udall and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who co-authored the bill, told The Hill that they hoped to start negotiations Friday — during Congress’ holiday break — and have a final product ready for votes in both chambers early next year.

Photo Credit: toxic chemicals via Shutterstock

 

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