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U.S. House passes chemical safety bill; questions remain on efficacy

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by Sakthi Prasad , Content Manager
27 May 2016

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the chemical safety bill, a measure updating the regulation of toxic chemicals for the first time in nearly four decades. The bill has been sent for Senate’s consideration and would then require President’s assent for it to become a law.

Industry body American Chemistry Council said while the original law passed in 1976 created a robust system of regulations, over time, confidence in Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) regulation of chemicals has eroded. 

“This lack of confidence has created pressure on individual state legislatures to create their own chemicals management laws and on retailers to pull products from the shelves, often based on the claims of activists rather than scientific conclusions,” the industry group said on their website.  

Companies and industry groups have supported the bill because consumer activism was lately directed against several chemicals that were used in a variety of day-to-day products. State regulation and restrictions by retail stores also prompted chemical companies to rally for an unifying federal law as against a plethora of State regulations.

For example, Toys “R” Us and other retailers have stopped selling bottles and other baby products that contain bisphenol-A, or BPA, a common ingredient in certain plastics that some studies published in academic journals have linked to hormonal anomalies in animals. Studies funded by industry groups have found BPA in products to be safe, according to the Wall Street Journal.

And Target has been rating products based on the chemicals they contain and offered suppliers incentives, such as better display in its stores, for products it deemed safer, the newspaper said. 

For their part, environmental groups are divided on this law: there are those who support as well as oppose the measure.

For example, environmental activist Erin Brokovich, whose onscreen persona was enacted by Hollywood star Julia Roberts, opposed the bill last year. It is unclear what Brokovich’s current position on the bill is.

 Environmental Working Group, which describes itself as a non-profit non-partisan organization said: “Is the bill better than current law? It’s a low bar, because TSCA is widely considered the least effective environmental law on the books.”

Among other criticism, the environmental group said that the bill would continue to tie the hands of the states by suspending state action while the EPA studies a chemical’s safety. 

“It would grandfather existing state laws and allow states to quickly act to regulate a chemical that EPA might deem a “high priority” chemical. But if a state fails to act quickly, state action would be suspended for up to three years while EPA completes its review,” it added.  

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requires Environmental Protection Agency to compile and publish a list of each chemical substance in the U.S. for testing purpose.

As per the updated law, chemicals substances under the control of EPA include:

  • Organics
  • Inorganics
  • Polymers
  • Chemical substances of unknown or variable composition, complex reaction products, and biological materials (UVCBs).

Below are the chemicals with uses not regulated under TSCA, but are governed by other U.S. statutes: 

  • Pesticides
  • Foods and food additives
  • Drugs
  • Cosmetics
  • Tobacco and tobacco products
  • Nuclear materials
  • Munitions

The bill mandates that the EPA begin with a review of 10 chemicals and eventually have 20 chemicals under review at a time. The reviews could take several years, according to experts.

Going forward, procurement managers in charge of sourcing chemicals that fall under EPA’s purview will have to keep a close watch on the regulation front.

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