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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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States' Rights and Federal Chemical Policy Reform

Posted by on October 18, 2013

The issue of protecting states' rights from interference by the federal government is often a conservative, pro-business position. Except when it comes to managing chemicals in consumer products -- then industry is in favor of federal regulation or at least a national system which would supersede state’s rights. This is primarily because of the success certain states have had in reducing exposure to hazardous chemicals such as lead and mercury.

The current federal law that regulates chemicals in consumer products, the Toxics Substances and Control Act (TSCA), has been abysmal in protecting the public from exposure to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, and learning disabilities, amongst other serious health conditions. To fill this void some states have passed their own laws aimed at banning or phasing out hazardous chemicals in consumer products.

But now there is an opportunity to improve upon TSCA and better protect the public's health. The Chemicals Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), currently before the Senate, seeks to update our outdated federal system for managing chemicals. Unfortunately, the CSIA has many flaws, one of which is its state preemption clauses.

The contributors to this month's Environmental Health Policy Institute highlight state innovation in regulating hazardous chemicals and how the states' work to protect the public's health is in jeopardy if current federal reform efforts are not improved.

There is debate amongst advocates about whether chemical use reporting and labeling laws such as California's Proposition 65 and Massachusetts’ Toxics Use Reduction Act would be protected and not subject to preemption under the current version of the CSIA. The articles below offer varying opinions on the plight of these laws under federal preemption.

What is clear is that current and future regulatory action by the states, such as bans and limits on hazardous chemicals, would be severely limited if not completely restricted if the preemption language remains unchanged in the CSIA.

Please read on to learn more about the advances states have made and the need to seize on our current opportunity for federal reform by improving upon the CSIA.


Preserve, Don't Preempt, State Leadership on Toxic Chemicals
Mike Belliveau

Protect State Innovation by Protecting Prop 65
Caroline Cox

Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act: Reducing Toxic Waste and Saving Money
Rachel Massey

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


Larry Carney said ..

Another move by "Big Corporate Control", I guess; sounds disastrous!

November 19, 2013
Linda Howe said ..

If states have moved on this issue, those laws should stand, but a federal revision of the 1977 law is crucial. Chemicals should be deemed safe before they go on the market, not the reverse as now.

November 19, 2013
Mary Bodde said ..

States need the right to control dan- gerous chemicals in their boundaries. It's time to return those rights to the states in the new bill before the Legislature.

November 19, 2013
Sylvia Richey said ..

Someone needs to control the chemicals. They are everywhere and making everyone sick.

November 15, 2013

Comments closed.