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Thursday, 28 July 2016 14:05

Environmental News, Congress Strengthens U.S. Chemical Safety Law

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U.S. Senators David Vitter, left, and Tom Udall, (Photo courtesy Senate Democrats) U.S. Senators David Vitter, left, and Tom Udall, (Photo courtesy Senate Democrats)

By unanimous consent, the
U.S. Senate passed a bill Tuesday
that would update federal chemical
safety protections for the first time
in four decades. The measure gives
the Environmental Protection
Agency new power to require
safety assessments of chemicals
found in ordinary products from
toys and clothing to household
cleansers.
The Senate approved the
legislation that was passed by the
House of Representatives on May
25, sending it to President Barack
Obama for his expected signature.
The bill reforms the Toxic
Substances Control Act of 1976,
TSCA, lifting restrictions that have
kept the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency from regulating
chemicals in common use from asbestos
to flame retardants.
Today, tens of thousands of
chemicals, including many that
Americans come into contact with
in daily life, to go on the market
without any safety evaluation.
The legislation, titled the
Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical
Safety for the 21st Century Act, is
named for the late Senator Frank
Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat,
who championed TSCA reform
until his death in 2013.
The measure was moved
through the Senate by the bipartisan
efforts of Senators Tom Udall,
a New Mexico Democrat, and
David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican.
“Today’s victory is a culmination
of years of hard work and
dedication from both sides,” said
Vitter. The first bipartisan bill to
reform the TSCA was introduced
by Senators Lautenberg and Vitter
in May 2013.
“After
four decades of
living under a
stagnant chemical
safety law, I
am so very glad
to have passed
a law that
strengthens our
country’s international
competitiveness,
provides desperately
needed
regulatory certainty
for industry,
and
mandates that
the federal government
use
better science
and provide
more transparency,” the Louisiana
senator said.
“This law will be a game
changer for the safety of our families
and communities and will help
promote economic success in an
industry that is of paramount importance
to Louisiana,” he said. “I
know Frank would have been
pleased with this huge historic accomplishment.”
Senator Udall said, “Most
Americans believe that when they
buy a product at the hardware store
or the grocery store, that product
has been tested and determined to
be safe. But that isn’t the case.
Americans are exposed to hundreds
of chemicals. We carry them
around with us in our bodies –
even before we’re born. Some are
known carcinogens; others are
highly toxic. But we don’t know
the full extent of how they affect us
because they have never been
tested.”
“Without a working federal
safety program, states like New
Mexico have no protection. When
this bill becomes law, there will finally
be a cop on the beat,” he said.
The last of the major environmental
laws of the 1960s and
70s to be updated, the TSCA was
broken from the start, and rendered
virtually useless by a court decision
in 1991 that blocked an attempt
by the EPA to ban asbestos,
the two senators said in a joint
statement.
Since 1976, the EPA has
been able to restrict just five chemicals,
and has prevented from
going to market only four of the
hundreds of chemicals produced
each year. Because the law is broken,
they said, tens of thousands of
chemicals, including known carcinogens,
have been on the market
for decades without being evaluated
for safety and without meaningful
regulation or restriction.
The chemical industry is
behind the new legislation too. Cal
Dooley, CEO of the American
Chemistry Council, a chemical industry
trade association, called the
measure “truly historic.”
“This is almost unprecedented
where you have an environmental
legislation where you have
this breadth and depth of support,”
he said.
“This legislation is significant,”
said Dooley, “not only because
it is the first major
environmental law passed since
1990, but because TSCA reform
will have lasting and meaningful
benefits for all American manufacturers,
all American families and
for our nation’s standing as the
world’s leading innovator.”
Environmental groups have
long advocated for an effective
chemical safety law.
“Today’s vote is an historic
victory for public health,” said Dr.
Richard Denison, lead senior scientist
with the Environmental Defense
Fund.
“While not perfect, the
Lautenberg Act fixes the biggest
problems with our current law—by
requiring safety reviews for chemicals
in use today, mandating
greater scrutiny of new chemicals
before they can be
Congress Strengthens U.S. Chemical Safety Law
sold, removing the barriers that prevented
EPA from banning asbestos
and other harmful chemicals, enhancing
transparency, and much
more.”
“The failures of the current
law have undercut consumer confidence
in the safety of everyday
products, leading many businesses
to support a national system even if
that means tougher regulation,” said
Denison.
Science has linked chemicals
used in everyday products such
as household cleaners, clothing and
furniture to serious illnesses, including
cancer, infertility, diabetes
and Parkinson’s disease.
The new law will:
*Require the EPA to protect the most
vulnerable people: children, the elderly,
pregnant women, and chemical workers.
*Give the EPA new authority to order
testing and ensure chemicals are safe,
with a focus on the most risky chemicals,
such as known carcinogens and
those with high toxicity.
*Ensure the EPA reviews new chemicals
before they go on the market.
*Provide the EPA with resources to do
its job and require that industry do its
share to support the program, providing
$25 million a year.
*Set mandatory, enforceable deadlines
for the EPA to act.
*Allow all states multiple ways to act on
chemicals, including unfettered authority
on chemicals where the EPA is not
acting, and options for state co-enforcement
and waivers from federal preemption
where the EPA has acted to restrict
a chemical.

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