Earthjustice Speaks Out About Chemical Safety Improvement Act

TSCA reform necessary, legislation must be strengthened


Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5221

Earthjustice stated today that while it is encouraged by bipartisan efforts to overhaul the outdated and ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), it cannot support the “Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013” (S.1009) without significant improvements. Introduced on May 22nd, the bill does not do enough to protect people, especially overburdened communities and vulnerable populations, from chemical exposures.

S.1009 does not do enough to protect people, especially overburdened communities and vulnerable populations, from chemical exposures. (USDA)

“This bill is a strong step toward TSCA reform but we cannot support it unless critical clarifications and changes are adopted,” said Earthjustice legislative representative Andrea Delgado. “Overhauling our toxics law is important but the final result must also adequately protect those overburdened communities that are continually exposed to chemicals, workers who are exposed to unsafe chemicals on the job, as well as children, pregnant women and other vulnerable populations.”

Delgado also emphasized that unlike an earlier version of the legislation, the new bill also fails to address “hot spots,” or communities that are already overburdened by toxics. The new law should provide comprehensive protection for these communities.

“Meaningful reform of our chemical laws requires that any bill be clear about criteria the EPA will use to assess the safety of chemicals,” continued Delgado. “It is essential that the EPA has a clear mandate to judge the safety of chemicals solely on the basis of the effect of a chemical on human health and the environment.”

One of the fundamental weaknesses of TSCA is that chemicals now enter the marketplace with virtually no oversight because the EPA lacks the authority to obtain data about the chemical from the manufacturer or even to determine whether it is safe. The bill continues this blind approach to chemicals management by requiring the EPA to decide which chemicals should get highest priority for regulation without giving EPA the authority to demand the data needed to make the decision. The EPA should have adequate safety data before it decides which chemicals are priorities for regulation.

Earthjustice also is concerned that other key provisions in the bill are not sufficiently protective. For example, in the absence of adequate federal protection, states have stepped in to protect the public from toxic chemicals. However the bill would prohibit states from taking such action to protect people from chemicals immediately after the EPA designates a chemical as either “high priority” or “low priority,” even if meaningful EPA action to regulate the chemical is years away or may never occur.  

“The states have a meaningful ongoing role to play in the regulation of toxic chemicals and we cannot support a bill that does not recognize their role,” added Delgado.

In addition, Earthjustice expressed concerns that the legislation lacks deadlines and timetables for EPA to implement the new law. After decades of delays, Americans need a bill that will ensure that effective protections are put in place as soon as possible.

“Over time, the success of environmental laws has depended on whether they have meaningful timelines and clear mandates to follow, which ensure that the EPA has the authority and the resources necessary to implement the law,” Delgado concluded.

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