Passed in 1976, the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) sought to protect ordinary Americans from potentially harmful chemicals used in everyday products. The wide-ranging legislation gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to implement rigid reporting, record-keeping, and testing requirements on certain substances. However, because countless new chemicals have come into existence since that time—few of which have been tested—critics have been calling for a major overhaul of TSCA for many years. A new bill that sailed through the U.S. House of Representatives in the summer has just recently been passed by the Senate. In advance of its anticipated adoption, many states are already updating their industrial substance regulations to ensure future chemical compliance.
Under the current law, the EPA is responsible for proving that substances pose an "unreasonable risk" of harm to the public or the environment. If they cannot do this in just 90 days, the chemical can stay on or enter the market. The federal agency must also factor in the cost of banning or restricting the chemical when deciding if it poses an unreasonable risk.
Under the new bill (the Udall-Vitter bill), the EPA would not have to consider the cost of regulation, but would instead base its decision solely on the scientific evidence of its health or environmental impact. The federal agency would also have the right to request additional safety data when needed. The objective of these changes is to shift the burden of proving that a new chemical isn't unreasonably risky from the EPA to the industry. This new model would encourage self-regulatory chemical compliance, which would give the EPA more time to test existing substances.
Now that versions of the bill have passed in both the House and Senate, they must be reconciled by the authors before the bill can be approved by President Obama. The two versions of the bill include noteworthy differences in the areas of funding for regulatory activities and the prioritization of chemicals. The Senate version is also much more detailed, more than three times the length of the House version. In addition to bipartisan support in Congress, the bill has the approval of many key organizations, including the Consumer Specialty Products Association, the American Chemistry Council, and the National Association of Manufacturers.
The next session of Congress will convene on January 5th for the House and on January 11th for the Senate with all sides working to complete a final TSCA-reform bill in early 2016.