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.

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About Kal

Kal Kawar, CIH, PE, has a bachelor's in chemical engineering and a master's in industrial hygiene. His professional experience includes serving as staff industrial hygienist for IBM's New York semiconductor manufacturing facility, and as industrial hygienist for IBM’s US headquarters. Now executive vice president of Actio, Kal taps more than 20 years' worth of chemical engineering, industrial hygiene, and environmental engineering experience. His far-reaching expertise with global regulatory challenges created by EPA, TSCA, REACH, RoHS, WEEE – and hundreds of others – aid in developing Actio software solutions for MSDS management, raw material disclosure compliance, and product stewardship in a supply chain.