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Senators introduce bipartisan proposal to reform toxic chemical regulations

By: Gayle S. Putrich

May 22, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Dropping their dueling bills, two senators on Wednesday introduced a new measure that would modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by requiring new tests for chemicals already on the market and granting broad new regulatory authority to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Chemical Safety Act of 2013 was introduced by senators Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and David Vitter (R-La.), co-sponsored by a slate of 14 other senators from both sides of the aisle. The pair attempted to work together on revamping TSCA two years ago, but no final bill was ever presented and the effort eventually fizzled.

Congress has debated changing the chemical regulation law since it was originally signed in 1976, though the EPA announced reform initiatives in 2009, along with a new approach for evaluating and managing toxic chemicals safely under the existing law and a long list of chemicals the agency wanted to tackle first.

As introduced, the new measure would:

  • Require safety evaluation for all active chemicals already on the market, which must eventually be labeled as high- or low-risk to human health or the environment.
  • Require additional safety evaluation by the EPA for chemicals considered high-risk or particularly risky for children and pregnant women.
  • Expand EPA authority to include the authority to obtain health and safety information from manufacturers, prioritize rules regulating chemicals, imposing safety requirements such as labeling, and phasing out or banning chemicals is necessary.
  • Allow states and municipalities to have input on prioritization and safety assessment, including a timely response from EPA regarding local concerns.

The measure does not include provisions to require chemical companies to use less dangerous materials if they are determined to be comparable and readily available by the EPA, something environmental groups have pushed for in previous iterations but that the industry said would give the EPA too much control over operations without a full understanding of their processes or the potential impact of such a change.

TSCA reform and the Lautenberg-Vitter bill seems to have been introduced with industry support, including the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.

“SPI has long advocated TSCA updates that embrace 21st century scientific and technological advances, while enhancing the ability of the U.S. plastics industry to develop and utilize essential materials,” said SPI President Bill Carteaux.

“At a time when the chemical industry is driving a national manufacturing renaissance, a sensible, strong and workable bipartisan solution to modernize TSCA as laid out in the CSIA is more important than ever, not only for our industry, but for the countless others that rely on chemical products. We stand committed to work with the Senate to ensure passage of this compromise legislation.”