Senate Approves Update to Toxic Chemical Safety Regulations for First Time in 40 Years

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The US Senate, last week, passed legislation to update the 40-year-old laws regulating the use of toxic chemicals in household products, food, and industry. The reform bill passed overwhelmingly in a 403 to 12 vote, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law in the coming months.

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (also known as “tosca”) has been scrutinized for not protecting the safety and health of consumers in the US. Currently, there are an estimated 64,000 chemicals that were not subject to environmental testing or regulation because they were on the market before the law passed in 1976.

“Tosca only requires that chemical manufacturers submit information about the production, use, exposure and environmental fate of new chemicals. Many argue that it falsely equated a lack of any safety data with a lack of risk,” Chemistry World explained.

Thousands of these chemicals will now be put to the test by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine their effect on human health, and the environment, as well as the economic effects of regulation once the new bill is in place.

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State laws have already put a ban on certain dangerous chemicals like asbestos, which is among those that will be up for review by the EPA. According to the bill, the EPA will review 20 chemicals at a time, with a maximum of seven years per chemical.

In addition to enabling the EPA to test thousands of chemicals, the updated law addresses one particular “tosca” weakness. Namely, it allowed companies to keep certain chemical information confidential if they claimed it was a trade secret. Under the new law, it will be much harder for corporations to hide chemicals behind a trade secret wall.

The revision of the 40-year-old law has been a long time coming, but critics say it takes the power from the hands of state government by putting chemical regulation under federal jurisdiction.

“This is an issue that many people assumed was never going to see progress because it had been so politicized, and industry and environmentalists were so diametrically opposed on how it should be handled,” said Anne Kolton, Vice President of Communications for the American Chemistry Council, a trade group that advocates for industrial chemical manufacturers and suppliers.

“It’s something that, through the art of compromise, we’ve settled on with the environmental community and the public health community.”



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About the author: Evan Vitkovski


An American writer, filmmaker, journalist, and blogger living in Taipei, Taiwan. So many stories to tell, so little time.


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