Shows Need for Reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act

The national Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition praised the proposal made on August 18th by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to apply science-based criteria to expand its list of chemicals of concern that require action to protect public health and the environment.

The coalition lauded EPA’s inclusion of criteria to target chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBTs) or which cause persistent exposure due to widespread use in consumer products. Once finalized, EPA will use the criteria proposed today to identify the next batch of chemicals for action plans under its Enhanced Chemicals Management Program.

To date, EPA has issued Chemical Action Plans for 10 chemicals or classes of chemicals, including bisphenol A and phthalates, and has another plan under development for siloxanes. The plans highlight possible regulatory measures as well as programmatic and voluntary initiatives to reduce exposures of children, workers and wildlife to these toxic chemicals.

The very limited authority provided to EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) constrains the Agency from taking more aggressive action. A consensus has developed that TSCA must be overhauled to ensure chemical safety and restore public confidence. The offices of Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and James Inhofe (R-OK) are leading a bipartisan process to consider TSCA reforms, in response to introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 by Sen. Lautenberg in April (S. 847). Senate action on TSCA reform is expected in the coming months.

We strongly agree with EPA’s forthright acknowledgment that today’s proposal represents only a small step toward ensuring chemical safety. The necessary review and prioritization of tens of thousands of existing chemicals for safety assessments and risk management can only be achieved through fundamental reform of TSCA. Of the nearly 85,000 chemicals on the current TSCA inventory in the United States, fewer than two percent have received any substantive, data-informed review.

We believe that the development of more and better data will reveal that a substantial number of chemicals on the market today present health or environmental concerns. Based on very limited health and environmental data, Canada reviewed its inventory of about 23,000 chemicals and found that about 4,000 of them met statutory criteria as chemicals of concern. Canada has targeted about 500 of those as priorities for greater scrutiny. Several U.S. states, including Maine, Minnesota and Washington, have identified about 1,750 chemicals of concern based on application of authoritative criteria, again despite serious data limitations.

The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition intends to publish its own list of chemicals of concern later this year to encourage the market to pursue safer alternatives as long as Congressional action to reform TSCA remains uncertain.