Trade groups call the bipartisan bill an effective compromise, but environmental groups say it is too weak

F Lautenberg

The bill is being championed by Senator Frank Lautenberg, but has support from both Republicans and Democrats

The US chemical industry is backing bipartisan legislation that would reform the law that controls chemical sales in the US for the first time since its enactment in 1976. But environmental groups do not share the enthusiasm.

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Chemical Safety Improvement Act, introduced in the Senate on 22 May, as an effective compromise to modernise America’s outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

This act would require the US 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.

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.

‘There is a lot to like in this bill,’ Bill Allmond, the SOCMA’s vice president for government relations, tells Chemistry World. He specifically 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.

The ACC’s chief executive, Cal Dooley, said the legislation takes ‘a balanced, comprehensive approach’. He and other industry groups acknowledge that the bill requires further review, but they see it as a significant and positive step forward.

However, some environmental groups remain concerned. The Environmental Defense Fund says the bill fixes a current TSCA loophole that has allowed most chemicals on the market to be ‘grandfathered in’ without any evidence of their safety. However, the group is worried that the bill places too few deadlines on the EPA to act.

The Environmental Working Group’s president, Ken Cook, criticised the bill as ‘unacceptably weak’. He said it omits clear deadlines for chemical safety assessments, and also complained that it lacks key provisions to enable Congress to stand up to chemical companies.