Chemicals in Commerce Act: TSCA Reform- NOT!

By Kathleen Schuler, Co-Director Healthy Legacy, Conservation Minnesota

While there is broad consensus that the Toxic Substances Control Act, the federal law regulating industrial chemicals in the US, is failing to protect public health and is badly in need of reform, opinions on what reform should look like are extremely divided. The latest proposal in the House illustrates just how divided.

U.S. House member Representative Shimkus has introduced the Chemicals in Commerce Act, a discussion draft of a chemical policy reform bill ostensibly designed to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act.  It turns out that Rep. Shimkus’ Chemicals in Commerce Act is an industry dream bill. It not only fails to protect public health and the environment, but would preempt actions that states like Minnesota have taken to protect citizens from toxic chemicals in common consumer products.

Environmental and public health groups are decrying its failure to protect public health and its roll-back of even the limited oversight that TSCA provides.     “State experts see the draft as a vehicle for more secrets, more safety data loopholes, and faster introduction of untested chemicals—all disguised as “reform” of a badly outdated 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act,” says Sarah Doll at SAFER States.

The Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA) rolls back already weak testing authority in existing law, which has required testing on only 200 chemicals in it’s decades long history.  It weakens EPA’s authority to assure safety of new chemicals, new uses of existing chemicals, and regulation of existing chemicals. It also weakens protections against imports of unsafe chemicals and products.

CICA lacks a specified Safety Standard. The standard for action on new and existing chemicals is “unreasonable risk of injury” — the same term in current TSCA that requires cost-benefit balancing before chemicals can be restricted. It also lacks timelines to prioritize the worst chemicals and adequate data requirements to determine when chemicals should be low priority.  It fails to require consideration of vulnerable populations during chemical assessments and to provide protections where they are at undue risk. CICA also fails to provide disclosure of information on chemical safety, establishing broad presumptions that numerous categories of information are confidential.

Finally, CICA threatens past and future state actions to protect citizens from unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals. It preempts state authority to assure chemical safety. State laws and regulations on chemicals, including those predating TSCA revisions, are preempted under a wide range of conditions, including designation of a chemical as low-priority or completion of the review period for a new chemical.

The Chemicals In Commerce Act is not only “not” reform, it is a distinct turn away from public health and environmental protection in favor of huge giveaways to industry.

See Healthy Legacy’s statement on CICA.

Contact: Kathleen Schuler by email.