New law brings confidence in chemical safety
Last week, a wide range of stakeholders and a vast majority of legislators from both political parties came together to make history: they helped to overhaul a major federal law that hadn’t been updated since it was signed in 1976.
This law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, oversees the federal regulation of chemicals in commerce. As more than 96 percent of all manufactured goods are directly touched by the business of chemistry, the TSCA law is an extremely important one for businesses, consumers and the environment.
Much has changed since Congress established these chemicals management rules 40 years ago. Science has produced innovative new substances and materials that have enabled tremendous advancements. Our economy has become much more globalized with the increase in world trade. And new testing methods and understandings of environmental impacts have increased the public awareness of chemical safety.
Under the old TSCA law, however, the Environmental Protection Agency lacked the authority to sufficiently regulate substances of concern. As the shortcomings of this old law became apparent, individual states began to create their own piecemeal regulations, including California’s Proposition 65, responsible for the perplexing warning labels found on many goods sold across the country.
More recently, activist groups have led alarmist campaigns to pressure retailers to remove certain chemicals from their products. While these efforts may have succeeded in shaming such substances, they have not always been based on sound science or reasonable standards.
Fortunately, this new reform, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, will help provide Americans with confidence in the safety of the products they use every day. This new law makes a number of improvements to TSCA that should be applauded:
■It will subject all existing and new chemicals to an EPA safety review.
■It will require the EPA to prioritize its list of chemicals to review based on risk levels, and provide the necessary funding and resources to do so.
■It will require EPA to make an affirmative determination that a chemical is safe before it is allowed to be produced.
■It will provide EPA a range of options to address the potential risks of substances, including labeling, use restrictions, phase-outs or other actions.
■It will reduce the use of animal testing in favor of new digital methods.
Many of these changes have been advocated for years by consumers’ rights and environmental groups, which have widely praised the new law. Many businesses rely on chemicals for the development of their products, and they want to know that their customers can trust their safety. The new law provides strong federal oversight of chemical substances, and it also ensures greater consistency between various states and protects interstate commerce from a patchwork of state-specific rules.
It isn’t every day that industry and environmental groups can both claim victory on an issue like this, or that Congress can overwhelmingly pass a major new law in the middle of a contentious election year. It took nearly a decade of work in Congress to make TSCA reform a reality, but it will be of great benefit to all of us.
John Dulmes is executive director of the Michigan Chemistry Council.