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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.


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Federal Chemical Policy Reform: Improvement or Greater Harm?

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb on June 28, 2013

The law designed to protect us from toxic chemicals in manufactured products has failed to do its job. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) does not restrict uses of the most highly toxic chemicals:  In the years since TSCA was enacted, EPA has succeeded in restricting only five chemicals, and that only in certain uses. TSCA also fails to require the development of data on the hazards associated with chemicals.  Under the law, the EPA has required testing of only about 200 of the more than 82,000 chemicals that have been on or have entered the market since TSCA was passed. In fact, exposure to toxic chemicals in the everyday objects of our lives is rampant, from soup cans and sippy cups to carpeting and furniture.

Now, the best hope for reforming that law threatens to make things worse.

Efforts to amend TSCA have been underway for years, led by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who first proposed his Safe Chemicals Act in 2005. Efforts to pass the SCA, however, foundered in the Senate time after time on party-line votes. So just weeks before his untimely death, Sen. Lautenberg introduced a new reform bill, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 (S. 1009). The CSIA was introduced with bipartisan support, a prerequisite for passage in light of congressional partisan gridlock. 

That bipartisan support, however, came at the price of compromises that seriously weaken the bill, according to many pro-reform forces who for years supported the Safe Chemicals Act. You will read statements in this Institute from a number of organizations concerned about the bill’s lack of a precautionary approach; preemption of state authority to regulate harmful chemicals; failure to protect vulnerable populations, and acquiescence with industry’s withholding of information about chemical components in manufactured products.

Consider, though, the different perspective put forward by Richard Denison, PhD, writing for the Environmental Defense Fund. Denison argues that while the bill may be flawed, it needs to be judged not in a vacuum but by how it compares to our current reality, which is to say, TSCA. With that as his yardstick, Denison concludes that “in each area of EPA activity and authority under TSCA, the new bill would be significantly better than the status quo.” Others disagree, especially in light of the limits the CSIA places on states’ authority to pass their own laws.

We invite you to read on and judge for yourself.


Achieving Real Chemical Policy Reform
Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

Reality Check on TSCA Reform Legislation
Richard Denison, PhD, for Environmental Defense Fund

HCWH Urges Strengthening of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013
Health Care Without Harm

Economic Growth in Tandem with Health and Environmental Protections
David Levine, for American Sustainable Business Council

Key Concerns with the Chemical Safety Improvement Act
Natural Resources Defense Council

"Chemical Safety Improvement" Act Needs Improvement
Physicians for Social Responsibility

CSIA Doesn't Do the Job
Jeanne Rizzo, RN, for Breast Cancer Fund

Addressing Chemicals with "Greater Understanding"
Eric Uram, for SafeMinds

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.


Angler said ..

TSCA with preemption attached is an injustice and serious betrayal to the people that trusted NGO's to be looking out for the public best interest. We got sold down the river so NGO's can have a win under their belt! Taking away the public's last avenues for democratic recourse from toxics at the state and local levels is nothing to be celebrating. We should all be mad as hell!

May 25, 2016
thelma Shtasel said ..

War kills many-pollution kills all!

July 10, 2013

Comments closed.