TSCA Reform- We aren't there yet

By Kathleen Schuler, MPH, Co-Director Healthy Legacy, Director Healthy Kids and Families Program Conservation Minnesota

Healthy Legacy and our national coalition, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families have been working for years to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the toothless law that’s supposed to be protecting public health and the environment from toxic chemicals. While TSCA reform proposals have come and gone, states have been busy passing laws to protect their citizens. In the past ten years, 34 states have passed over 200 laws restricting chemicals. Enter the Udall-Vitter bill, the most recent attempt at reforming TSCA. 

I’d love to say the Vitter-Udall is the ticket to reforming TSCA. Unfortunately, it’s not. While it improves on current law in a few areas, it is worse in other areas. The glacial pace of chemical review and preemption of timely state actions to protect citizens are key weaknesses in the bill. This bill falls short of meaningful reform that truly protects public health.  To highlight the biggest problems with the bill:

Right now there are 84,000 chemicals on the TSCA inventory, of which about half are widely used in commerce. Vitter-Udall provides for EPA to address only 10chemicals in five to seven years, a drop in the bucket. States would not be permitted to take action on a priority chemical during this time.

Under current TSCA states are free to take action on chemicals, when EPA has not done so. Under Vitter-Udall current state chemical policies would not be preempted, which is good, but future actions would be significantly curtailed. States would be prohibited from acting on a high priority chemical the minute that EPA puts it on their list, instead of when EPA makes a final determination, which could take up to seven years. For a more extensive analysis of state preemption in the bill.

In addition to designating high priority chemicals, the bill allows EPA to set aside without assessment low priority chemicals “likely to meet” the safety standard. Hundreds of chemicals could be set aside as safe, with no incentive or requirement to reevaluate their safety. That would be bad enough, but these decisions cannot even be challenged in court. According to Andy Igrejas, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families: 

Public health groups have made the modest proposal that since industry will be able to sue over EPA decisions to declare a chemical unsafe, or over EPA’s choice of restrictions, the public should be able to get a court to review the quality of these hall passes. Make sure nothing dangerous gets a free ride. The response has been “no.” It’s a “deal-killer” for industry. Apparently, whoever it is that knows what “likely to” means must have big plans for this part of the bill. Sounds sketchy to me.”

 Vitter-Udall also makes it harder than current law for EPA to regulate chemicals in products and chemicals of concern in imports.  Read more about details on the flaws in the Vitter-Udall bill.

Neither Senator Franken, nor Senator Klobuchar are original cosponsors of Vitter-Udall.  Please thank them for not signing on to the bill and urge them not to support the bill until these key flaws are fixed. We need TSCA reform, but we need to get it right to really protect Minnesota families and families across the country.  

The American Chemistry Council has endorsed the Vitter-Udall chemical reform bill, which is not surprising, given the erosion of state authority and the slow pace of chemical assessment. While this bill might be the ticket for the chemical industry, the public health community must declare “we’re not there yet.”