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Will TSCA reform protect our health?

Posted by Kathy Attar, MPH on January 6, 2016

Right before the holidays, the U.S. Senate passed legislation seeking to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. The House passed a different version of reform in June 2015. Reform of TSCA will occur if the two bills can be reconciled. Unfortunately, both have major flaws that could prevent the public health community from supporting any final legislation.

Among the Senate bill's key problems, it would:

  • Make it harder for the EPA to regulate imported products that contain banned chemicals;
  • Preempt states from taking new regulatory action on a chemical while EPA carries out its assessment (creating a regulatory void);
  • Create a low-priority chemical category which would allow chemicals to be given a green light for use without going through a rigorous safety evaluation and without full evidence the chemical is safe.

The House bill has critical issues as well. Public disclosure of chemicals via confidential business information reform is inadequate. Once information is held to be confidential, EPA doesn't have the authority to review it even if a chemical is found not to meet the safety standard. And certain existing state laws could be preempted. Finally, the House would not provide adequate funding for the EPA to do its job.

Whether the House and Senate can combine the best of both bills and come away with modest reform is unclear. What is clear is that the health of our communities is at risk of continued exposure to harmful chemicals if reform is not done right.

Stay tuned as the hard work of reforming TSCA continues and the voices of health professionals remain vital to gaining public health protections for our communities.

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