Spring Forward: TSCA Reform Out of Hibernation and Back on the Agenda for Congress

Today Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced an updated version of his legislation that would reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), widely regarded as the greatest failure of all of the major environmental and public health laws.  He introduced it through release of a video that you can view here.  Because of a number of restrictions in the existing law, which has never been reauthorized since it was enacted in 1976, it is nearly impossible for EPA to obtain sufficient information to determine the safety of thousands of chemicals currently used in commercial and consumer products and for industrial purposes, or to take action to reduce the public’s exposure to those chemicals for which there is ample evidence that they cause cancer or other types of harm. 

The law’s weakness in these and other areas has led to a growing call for Congress to act to establish stronger protections for public health and the environment from toxic chemicals.  The science and public health communities have increasingly been raising their voice about the need to take into account the most recent understanding about the connections between toxic chemicals and chronic illness and disease.   Because of the lack of meaningful federal protection, concerned citizens have turned to their state legislatures and the marketplace to obtain at least some protections from some of the chemicals of greatest concern. Those actions, which have been remarkably successful and show no signs of dissipating, have also led the chemical industry to, at least rhetorically, call for reform of TSCA.

Senator Lautenberg has been a leader in efforts to address concerns about the safety of chemicals used in products in our homes, workplaces and schools.  His new version of the Safe Chemicals Act, while different in some respects, addresses many of the key elements needed for real reform of TSCA, which include:

  • Directing chemical companies to produce health and environmental data for chemicals;
  • Requiring chemicals to meet a safety standard to remain on the market;
  • Giving EPA greater authority to require testing of chemicals and to take action to protect the public from those that are unsafe;
  • Expanding public access to information about chemicals, including their potential effects as well as uses and likely sources of exposure;
  • Ensuring EPA decisions are made based upon the most up to date science and methods of assessing the risks of chemicals;
  • Promoting action to clean up those communities that have been hardest hit by significant and disproportionate exposure to toxic chemicals.

Senator Lautenberg’s reintroduction of legislation to reform TSCA presents Congress with an opportunity and a challenge: Can the House and Senate overcome paralysis and partisanship to address a nationwide problem that threatens consumers’ health and the ability of businesses to assure the public that their products are safe? For more than two years, health and environmental groups and the chemical industry, have been calling on Congress to repair the broken federal system for regulating toxic chemicals. His bill puts us on the path to that fix.

Every member of Congress should take this issue as seriously as their constituents, who are rightfully concerned about the role that toxic chemicals may play in the rise of chronic illness and disease including cancer, learning and developmental disabilities and reproductive problems.

Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal, and as spring (finally) blooms here in Washington DC, the warm, fragrant air carries with it the promise of new possibilities and opportunities.  That kind of hope and optimism is badly needed here in the nation’s capital, where the long-standing, and worsening sense of paralysis and partisan standoff could lead one to despair of ever seeing meaningful progress on a range of issues of concern to people across the country.

Spring is also a great time to take a walk, or go for a run or ride, and see friends and neighbors that have mostly been inside during the cold winter months.  And it is a great time to get active, organize and to become engaged in a collective effort to improve our society, and expand health protections for our children and our families.

So get outside, and get ready to help NRDC and all of our colleagues in the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families campaign educate members of Congress about the need for strong TSCA reform to safeguard our health.

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