Safe Chemicals Bill Introduced in Senate

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics
and Environmental Health, introduced this week the "Safe Chemicals Act of 2010," which would
amend the the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Over the last several months, Congress has held a series of hearings focusing on chemical safety and possible ways to modernize TSCA. Chemical business leaders, public officials, scientists, doctors, academics, and liberal environmental organizations have expressed support for varied methods of reforms to the principal toxic substance law. The “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” comports with the reform principles laid out by the Obama Administration and groups such as the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Coalition, and purports to address issues with TSCA identified by the GAO.

The bill (summarized here) is supposed to:

  • provide EPA with sufficient information to judge a chemical’s safety, by requiring manufacturers to develop and submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, while also preventing duplicative or unnecessary testing. EPA will have full authority to request additional information needed to determine the safety of a chemical.
  • Prioritize chemicals by having EPA categorize chemicals based on risk, and focus resources on evaluating those most likely to cause harm.
  • Place a new burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their chemicals, including all foreseeable uses, before the chemical may enter the market or continue to be used.
  • Create more access to chemical information, by establishing a public database to catalog the information submitted by chemical manufacturers and the EPA’s safety determinations. The EPA will impose requirements to ensure the information collected is "reliable."
  • Promote innovation and development of green chemistry, through grant programs and research centers to foster the development of safe chemical alternatives, and bring some new chemicals onto the market using an expedited review process.


     

It is clear that safety must be the primary goal of chemical regulatory reform, and the scientific and technological advances made since the passage of TSCA should allow industry and the regulatory agency to achieve a high degree of safety.  Certainly,  the need to prioritize chemicals for evaluation, a proper risk-based approach to EPA safety reviews, and a reduction in animal testing, are all aspects that should generate bi-partisan support. However, the bill’s proposed decision-making standard may be both legally and technically impossible to meet. Readers know how the articulation and application of the burden of proof can be outcome determinative. It is impossible to prove that something is "safe,” if one means risk-free. Every substance, even water, is hazardous to health at some levels in some exposure contexts. It would be devastating for our economy if this bill was merely a back-door attempt to make the so-called precautionary principle the law in this country, as it is in Europe. It is simply scientifically false that every chemical that is dangerous at high doses is also hazardous at low doses;  it is patently false that every chemical that causes effects in lab animals will also cause those effects in human beings.

And the proposed changes to the new chemicals program could very well hamper innovation in new products, processes, and technologies. In addition, the bill undermines business certainty by appearing to allow states to adopt their own regulations and create a lack of regulatory uniformity for chemicals and the products that use them.

Congressmen Henry Waxman and Robert Rush have proposed a "discussion draft" on the House side, and that may afford an opportunity for a transparent and meaningful discussion by all key stakeholder groups to ensure that TSCA reforms are based on sound science and protect the safety of all consumers, while promoting jobs and innovation.  In these uncertain economic times, the last thing needed is another expensive government program that risks doing more harm than good.

 

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