chris willemsen/iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Photo credit: chris willemsen/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The U.S. chemical industry is backing bipartisan legislation that would reform the law that controls chemical sales in the United States for the first time since its enactment in 1976. But environmental groups do not share the enthusiasm, according to a recent story in Chemistry World.

Chemical trade associations are hailing this revised version of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, introduced in the Senate on 22 May, as an effective compromise to modernize the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Almost everyone agrees that the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act is badly flawed, says the New York Times in a recent editorial piece, but efforts to reform it have been continuously frustrated. In urging its passage, the editors note that the bill is strongly supported by industry trade groups and the “centrist” Environmental Defense Fund, but is opposed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, also considered to be centrist.

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This act would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to screen all registered chemicals for human health and environmental safety, and label them as either “high” or “low” risk priority. It would also compel the EPA to conduct further safety evaluations of those chemicals identified as high priority.

In addition, the bill would give the EPA authority to change labeling requirements and phase out or ban any chemical found to be unsafe. At the same time, the legislation would protect trade secrets and intellectual property from disclosure.

As the TSCA is currently written, the EPA is required to cite evidence that a chemical could be dangerous before it can demand safety testing. So far, the EPA has mandated testing for roughly 200 of the more than 84,000 chemicals currently registered in the US. The agency has only banned five substances since the TSCA became law, according to Chemistry World.

American Chemistry Council backs new law on toxic chemicals

Industry groups like the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) welcome the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. The latest revisions address many of the industry groups’ concerns with previous attempts to reform the TSCA.

Bill Allmond, the SOCMA’s vice president for government relations, points to stronger language safeguarding specific chemical identity, noting that current law is ambiguous about whether chemical identity is protected when contained in a health and safety study, for example.

In general, industry groups acknowledge that the bill requires further review, but they see it as a significant and positive step forward, Chemistry World concludes.