​Still Time to Fix Broken Chemical Safety System


Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) forty years ago to prevent harm to pregnant women, babies, workers, and other vulnerable groups from dangerous chemicals in everyday products.

But the law was fundamentally flawed from the start. TSCA has failed so badly that even asbestos, which still kills 10,000 Americans annually, could not be banned. In fact, few chemicals have been tested for safety.

A national leader in the decade-long campaign to overhaul TSCA, the Environmental Health Strategy Center has helped build overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress to reform chemical policy.

Two reform bills passed last year--one in the U.S. Senate and one in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Both would advance meaningful, if modest, reform to do a much better job at protecting public health. Both would finally allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure a chemical is safe for its intended uses, and phase out chemical uses that endanger the health of the most vulnerable among us.  

But serious differences between the two bills must be reconciled before President Obama can sign chemical reform into law this year.

Senate Bill Stifles State Action

The House bill is stronger than the Senate bill in two important respects: 1) it better preserves states’ authority to regulate dangerous chemicals, and 2) it retains federal authority to intercept imported products that contain toxic chemicals.

In contrast, the Senate bill blocks states from restricting the use of high-priority toxic chemicals. States will be preempted from acting once EPA begins its safety review--years before the final, effective date of any federal ban on that chemical. The regulatory void could last nearly four years, as per the timetable outlined for EPA’s safety review.

Chemical industry lobbyists hope this preemption provision will stifle action by Maine, California, Washington, and other states that have led the nation in phasing out the use of dangerous chemicals.

We appreciate that Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and 11 other attorneys general have voiced strong opposition to the bill’s preemption of state authority.

Man years could pass before EPA cracks down on a highly toxic chemical, while states are discouraged from taking any leadership to protect their residents’ health. That gives the chemical industry plenty of time to lobby for far weaker federal regulations without fear of more protective state action.

See how the House and Senate bills compare, on federal preemption of the states.

The Senate bill also rolls back current safeguards in place to prevent the importing of products that contain toxic chemicals banned in the United States. Consider the impact on children, alone: about 95 percent of all toys sold in the U.S. are manufactured outside this country. That’s also true of about 75 percent of all shoes and clothing.

Working On It

Strategy Center Executive Director Mike Belliveau is among the national chemical policy experts advocating that Congressional negotiators drop the Senate-bill provisions that shield chemical manufacturers from state action and product importers federal review.  

Congress should remain focused on assuring the safety of chemicals in consumer products, and send the president a bill that is the best possible for ensuring the safety and health of America’s children and families.

See the letter we signed to Congressional leaders, outlining the "best of both bills.”