Momentum Builds in Congress to Overhaul U.S. Chemicals Policy

New bill seeks to reduce toxic chemical exposure and ensure safety


Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 235

Congressmen Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced a groundbreaking bill late yesterday to overhaul U.S. chemicals policy in the House Energy & Commerce Committee. The Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010 is intended to overhaul the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which has failed to regulate chemicals in consumer products—even those that have known links to cancer, learning disabilities, asthma, reproductive disorders, and other serious health problems.

“This legislation will reduce chronic disease in this country, a burden that scientists have increasingly linked to toxic chemicals found in our homes and places of work,” said Andy Igrejas, Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of 250 environmental and public health groups. “It will also give American manufacturers and retailers the tools they need to compete in a world demanding safer products. We applaud Chairman Rush and Chairman Waxman for leading the way.”

The House legislation would significantly strengthen public health protections from toxic chemicals. For the first time, the chemical industry would be required to demonstrate that chemicals are safe, rather than the EPA having to prove they are unsafe. In a major shift the legislation would require chemical manufacturers to provide basic health and safety information for all chemicals as a condition for them remaining on or entering the market and to make that information public.

Other elements of the legislation would require:

  • Chemicals to meet a health standard to enter or remain on the market.
  • EPA to identify and restrict the most toxic chemicals that build up in our food chain and in our bodies, such as brominated flame retardants.
  • Populations most vulnerable to toxic chemicals, including pregnant women, infants and children, and those living in environmental ‘hot spots’, to have extra protections from toxic chemicals.
  • EPA to rely on the National Academy of Sciences’ recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when determining the safety of chemicals.

The bill, introduced in the House, follows a similar bill introduced in the Senate in April by Senator Lautenburg (D-NJ) called the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010”. For the past three months Congressmen Rush and Waxman have been meeting with key stakeholders including industry representatives, health and environmental advocates and the EPA to come up with a balanced bill.

“Right now our nation is bearing the brunt of decades of lax to non-existent federal oversight and the harm to consumers is immeasurable,” said Congressman Rush in a recent article about the bill.

Just this year the President’s Cancer Panel reported that “the true burden of environmentally-induced cancers has been grossly underestimated.”

“Thanks to the leadership of Chairman Rush and Chairman Waxman, we are one step closer to the day when we can move about our daily lives without worrying about carcinogens and hormone disruptors lurking in our kitchenware, mattresses, and children’s toys,” said Earthjustice Vice President for Litigation Patti Goldman. “We hope their Congressional colleagues hastily get to work making that day a reality.”

“People have been led to believe that chemicals are proven safe before added to products we use every day, but the law doesn’t offer that protection,” said Igrejas. “This legislation gives EPA both the authority and a mandate to begin making up for 34 years of neglect. Congress should seize this opportunity immediately.”

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.