hazardous materialsTwo competing bills designed to revise the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) were introduced this month, and only one is winning the approval of a public advocacy group that is concerned about the federal government's power to override states’ rights when it comes to chemical safety.

The Center for Effective Government has released an interactive map and a new report , Reducing Our Exposure to Toxic Chemicals: Stronger State Health Protections at Risk in Efforts to Reform Federal Chemical Law that examines the starkly different Senate bills attempting to fix the TSCA.

The bill introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) would enable the EPA to more quickly assess toxic chemicals and would require the agency to use a stronger safety standard to determine whether use of a chemical should be restricted. The legislation would also preserve the ability of states to go above and beyond federal minimum standards. In contrast, a bill from Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA) would make some improvements, including eliminating troublesome cost considerations in determining chemical safety, but it would prevent states from passing and enforcing stronger standards.

Litigation from chemical manufacturers

“Of the more than 20,000 new chemicals that have been registered for commercial use since the Toxic Substances Control Act passed in 1976, the EPA has required testing to assess the risks of only about 250 of them and, thanks to litigation from chemical manufacturers, has banned or restricted just nine chemicals in almost 40 years,” said Katherine McFate, President and CEO of the Center. “The public interest community and champions in Congress have been calling for more restrictions on toxic chemicals for years. With a growing body of research documenting the devastating health impacts of chemical exposure, especially on infants and children, the urgency to improve our safety standards is increasing.”

With chemical company lobbyists blocking efforts to establish stronger federal standards, states have taken the lead. For example, California requires manufacturers to put warning labels on products containing 700 cancer-causing chemicals and has developed a comprehensive program to address toxic chemicals in consumer products. In all, 38 states have passed more than 250 policies that address toxic chemicals. In addition to California, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington State have established comprehensive chemical policies that identify toxic chemicals in consumer products and require companies to use safer alternative chemicals when possible. Dozens of other states have banned or restricted individual toxic chemicals like lead, mercury, and flame retardants. Nearly 75 more protective policies are pending in 20 states, many of which would be at risk under the Udall-Vitter legislation. The industry-friendly bill would undermine future efforts to safeguard state and local residents from toxic chemicals. See the interactive map at http://arcg.is/1wsASj0.

Innovation at state, local level

“State and local governments have led the way in protecting children and vulnerable groups from dangerous chemicals,” said Ronald White, Director of Regulatory Policy at the Center and a co-author of the report. “We need to ensure that states can continue to innovate as part of any effort to improve federal law.”

The Center is urging Congress to adopt a revised TSCA that:

  • Strengthens federal law but preserves the right of state and local governments to regulate chemicals of concern with policies that meet or exceed federal minimums;
  • Enables governments at all levels to identify and prioritize chemicals of concern and establishes their authority to address the most problematic chemicals;
  • Requires the chemical industry to provide regulatory agencies with the information they need to determine whether a chemical is safe; and
  • Requires manufacturers to report health and exposure information about the chemicals they use to regulators, businesses, and the public.

Reducing Our Exposure to Toxic Chemicalsis available online at www.foreffectivegov.org/reducing-chemical-exposure, along with interactive maps of existing and proposed state chemical policies that could be at risk, which are available at http://arcg.is/1wsASj0.