The Senate and House have both passed bipartisan bills to update the ineffective and outdated Toxics Substances Control Act of 1976 (“TSCA,” pronounced “TOSS-kuh”). These bills are intended to update a deeply broken process that currently leaves 99% of chemicals on the market untested for safety, exposing us to products containing chemicals linked to negative health effects, like cancer, reproductive problems, asthma, and more. The next step is for the House and Senate to come together in a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two bills.
The first thing to understand is that, while both bills are improved from their original versions, neither the House nor Senate bill is strong enough, and both bills contain some dangerous flaws.
That said, the political realities as they stand now leave us with the choice of turning our back on the two flawed options, or working to ensure that what passes is in the best interest of the public. We choose the latter, and in that spirit we recommend that the conference committee use the stronger House bill as the template, and fix its flaws with selected language taken from the Senate bill.
The House bill takes a straightforward approach, removing language that has prevented the EPA from testing, evaluating, and regulating most chemicals, and makes particularly dangerous chemicals that build up and remain in our bodies for a long time (“persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic” chemicals) a priority. The House bill also maintains states’ ability to regulate a given chemical unless and until the EPA has made a final decision to regulate or exonerate that chemical. This is particularly important, because many states have led the way by passing laws that protect their citizens from toxic chemicals in the absence of federal regulation.
Any bill that comes out of the conference committee should fulfill these main criteria:
- Maintain states’ power to regulate a chemical unless the EPA takes final action on it. (Ideally there would be no preemption, but that ship has sailed.)
- Allow all existing state laws and regulations on chemicals to remain on the books.
- Require the EPA to review all existing chemicals in commerce for safety, at a reasonable pace of at least 10 per year.
- Require the EPA to review all new chemicals for safety before they hit the market.
- Contain a health-based safety standard, ensuring that chemicals are shown to be safe before they are used.
- Give the EPA power and resources to identify and intercept imported products containing toxic chemicals.
- Ensure the EPA has the necessary funding and resources to conduct timely and thorough chemical safety assessments, and to regulate chemicals found to be unsafe.
- Reduce abuse of “Confidential Business Information,” which prevents the public from seeing information about chemicals.
This list is not exhaustive—there are many more elements that would make the strongest possible TSCA reform bill. But, these points highlight the most important ways a new TSCA bill could help protect us from toxic chemicals in the products we buy and use every day.
The conference committee represents the most critical phase of the TSCA reform debate, and, throughout it, we will advocate for meaningful reform that protects public health.
 Katie Weatherford and Ronald White, Reducing Our Exposure to Toxic Chemicals: Stronger State Health Protections at Risk in Efforts to Reform Federal Chemical Law, Center for Effective Government, March 2015.
 See, e.g. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, Toxic Substances Portal – Chromium, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=17;
Toxic Substances Portal – Benzene, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=14;
Toxic Substances Portal – Formaldehyde, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tf.asp?id=219&tid=39, viewed December 12, 2015.