New TSCA Reform Bill from Lautenberg

U.S. chemical law reform has the best chance to pass as we’ve seen since 1976.

Senator Lautenberg has not been in great health these past few months. His detractors in the US Senate, in powerful lobbies— and just in principle— seem to be softening a bit. We are witnessing the final months of the final term of one of the most legendary public servants in United States history. Whether you love him or prefer to dine at a different table, such a long and passionate career will certainly garner at least some of the respect it deserves. Not that Lautenberg is looking for respect. He’s looking for legacy: he wants to see chemical legislation reform happen in America, no matter what.

In what could be a final bid to make it happen, the Senator has introduced a new version of a bill that would update the Toxic Substances and Chemicals Act (TSCA). It is identical to the legislation that was sponsored by 30 Senators and reported favorably out of the Environment and Public Works Committee in the 112th Congress. Compared to earlier versions of the legislation, it includes a number of significant changes that reflected input from a broad range of stakeholders including federal agencies, state governments, the chemical industry, and public health advocates.

An update is something that almost everyone agrees must happen, from tree-huggers to the ACC to 77% of the US population. The disagreement, as ever, is in the specifics of the bill. TSCA reform is always held up on minutiae and absolutely nothing ever happens. However, with sentiment rising in favor of the august public servant, now is as likely a time as we’ve seen in the past 12 years to consider TSCA reform a real legislative possibility.

Under TSCA, EPA’s ability to protect human health and the environment from harmful chemicals is severely limited. These legal restrictions are so burdensome that, of the more than 84,000 chemicals on the inventory, EPA has been able to require health and safety testing of about 200, and banned only five, since TSCA was enacted in 1976.

Americans and even industry overwhelmingly support legislation to reform TSCA. Recent polling shows strong bipartisan support across the country, as well as strong support from small business owners.

— 77% of Americans support TSCA reform, says a recent poll by Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies
— 75% of small business owners support stronger regulations on toxic chemicals

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 addresses each of the core failings of TSCA. To read the specifics of the issues it addresses, please refer to the summary or to the actual bill as proposed.

US Senate EPW approves Safe Chemicals Act

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has approved the “Safe Chemicals Act,” which was introduced last year. The legislation is intended to protect Americans from dangerous toxic chemicals that are found in everyday consumer products.

The measure is expected to move forward along party lines.  That is to say, it’s “unlikely to advance without bipartisan support” (Tribune).

“This vote is a major milestone in our effort to fix America’s broken system for regulating toxic chemicals,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, introduced the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011” last year in an effort to modernize the “Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976” (TSCA).

The bill aims to provide the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the tools it needs to require health and safety testing of toxic chemicals and places the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe.

Under current law, the EPA can call for safety testing only after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States, and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances.

Where the chemicals are. Scientists and environmental groups have expressed concern about chemicals that are used in the production of a wide-range of consumer products.  NJToday’s list of such products includes:

  1. Rug cleaners and stain-resistant carpet
  2. Non-stick cookware
  3. Vinyl products
  4. Dishwashing liquids
  5. Fabric softeners
  6. Upholstery
  7. Insulation, and
  8. Hair dyes

The Safe Chemicals Act would:

  1. Require manufacturers to develop and submit safety data for each chemical they produce, while avoiding duplicative or unnecessary testing.
  2. Prioritize chemicals based on risk, so that EPA can focus resources on evaluating those most likely to cause harm while working through the backlog of untested existing chemicals.
  3. Place the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of their chemicals.
  4. Restrict uses of chemicals that cannot be proven safe.
  5. Establish a public database to catalog the information submitted by chemical manufacturers and the EPA’s safety determinations.
  6. Promote innovation and development of safe chemical alternatives, and bring some new chemicals onto the market using an expedited review process.

Actio’s position on the Safe Chemicals Act is that it would be much easier to establish policies at a federal level than have the tangle of state and sector parameters in place now.

However, cheekily we might point out that Actio software exists to untangle those compliance webs — so maybe as a company we should have mixed feelings towards federal level policy!  (Truly: this one US federal law passing would not eliminate the need to Actio software — the need exists as long as there are international regulations, supply chain transparency needs, and unique declarable substances lists within discrete market sectors.)

The fact is that policy watchers see no real reason to believe the Safe Chemicals Act will gather serious momentum in the near future.  But you never know.  We’ll keep watching.

Reviving TSCA: Safe Chemicals Act Revision 2011

On April 14, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) proposed “The Safe Chemicals Act, Version 2” to Congress.  Reception is lukewarm and the legislation is not expected to pass.  However, all industry persons should be familiar with the basics of the proposal.

SCA 2011 E-Z: articles, mixtures and nanos. In common language, SCA 2011 differs from SCA 2010 in three key ways.

In terms of articles, the new revision would not specifically amend the definition of chemical substance to include chemicals in articles.  “Articles” typically means “finished goods,” like a table, chair, electronic device or other saleable manufactured item for the market.  Under SCA 2011, chemical substances imported as part of an article would be subject to the same requirements as if they had been imported in bulk, with some exceptions.

Mixtures are again a hot topic:  current TSCA allows testing and reporting rules and control actions to be issued for mixtures, although EPA rarely implements related procedures.  SCA 2011 unloads many of last year’s mixture requirements so that it more closely resembles the current TSCA status quo.  SCA 2011 would let EPA take actions relating to mixtures in the same manner as actions relating to chemical substances — in the event that EPA determined that doing so would be reasonable and efficient.

In the realm of nanomaterials, SCA 2011 is similar to SCA 2010 in that it lets EPA determine whether nanoscale versions of existing macroscale chemicals are new chemicals.

SCA 2011 E-Z: in context. The esteemed Washington, DC, environmental law in Beveridge and Diamond aptly commented on the upshot of SCA 2011 by pointing out, “With the Republican majority in the House of Representatives unlikely to consider TSCA legislation this Congress, passage of SCA 2011 is unlikely. Nevertheless, SCA 2011 will probably stimulate efforts by stakeholders to educate Congress and each other on a variety of approaches to overhauling TSCA that can address the deficiencies in the current statute while obtaining sufficient support to be enacted.”

The SCA 2011 aims to endow EPA with sufficient information to judge a chemical’s safety.  It requires manufacturers to develop and submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, while also preventing duplicative or unnecessary testing and encouraging the use of rapid, low-cost, non-animal tests that provide high quality data.  Again, the onus of chemical evaluation and disclosure is intended to fall on chemical manufacturers, not manufacturers in general.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and its members have announced they support efforts by the US Congress to modernize chemical management. A modern system, says the ACC, should place protecting the public health as its highest priority, and should include strict government oversight.