EDFAction Hails Senate Passage of Chemical Safety Reform

December 17, 2015
Keith Gaby, kgaby@edfaction.org, (202) 572-3336

(Washington, D.C. — December 17, 2015) Today the Senate passed legislation to fix America’s badly broken chemical safety system, building new protections for American families from hazardous chemicals found in everything from clothing to couches. With the House having passed its own bill in June, today’s action brings us a major step closer to enacting the most significant environmental reform in more than two decades.

“Today the Senate took a giant step toward a healthier future for all Americans,” said Fred Krupp, Executive Director of EDFAction. “Passage of the Lautenberg Act gives us the best chance in two generations to put an end to a national scandal — a dangerously ineffective chemical safety system that was broken on arrival in 1976. Today’s nearly universal show of support in the Senate reflects years of hard work. We are especially grateful to the late Senator Frank Lautenberg for his vision and to Senator Tom Udall for his incredible leadership over the past two years to actually get it done.”

“This is a milestone to be celebrated, but the work is far from done,” said Dr. Richard Denison, EDFAction lead senior scientist. “The final bill must maintain strong public health protections, including ensuring that EPA focuses on chemicals of highest concern and affirms the safety of new chemicals before they are allowed on the market. EDFAction looks forward to working with members of both parties in both houses of Congress to ensure the strongest bill possible arrives on the President’s desk and becomes law.”

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act would address flaws in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Science has linked chemicals used in everyday products such as household cleaners, clothes and furniture to serious illnesses, including cancer, infertility, diabetes and Parkinson’s.

Yet TSCA hasn’t been updated for almost 40 years and is so weak that only a small fraction of the chemicals used in most products have ever been reviewed for safety. The law leaves EPA virtually powerless to ensure the safety of common chemicals—or even to restrict known hazards, including asbestos, lead and formaldehyde. And the current patchwork of state regulations, while critical to driving this issue onto the national agenda, has been able to address the risks of only a small number of chemicals in some place. The failures of the current law have undercut consumer confidence in the safety of everyday products, leading many businesses to support a more uniform national system even if that means tougher regulation.

The Lautenberg Act builds on two years of negotiations, begun by its namesake, the late public health champion Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). The bill fixes the biggest problems with our current law: It requires safety reviews for all new and existing chemicals. It fixes the safety standard that prevented EPA from banning asbestos and other harmful chemicals. It gives EPA enhanced testing authority, sets aggressive deadlines for action and reins in chemical industry trade secret claims.

Now that both the House and Senate have passed TSCA reform measures, differences will need to be resolved.  Key House and Senate members have said those differences are bridgeable.