Federal Chemical Regulation

Monitoring Implementation of New Federal Chemical Safety Rules

The main federal rule to protect us from harmful chemicals was adopted by Congress in 1976, and until 2016 the law was never updated. For decades this legislation, called the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), allowed companies to expose our children and families to thousands of untested chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer and other serious diseases.

For many years, Congress deliberated on reforming this outdated law. CEH worked for years to advocate for the strongest protections for our children and families.

Unfortunately, the chemical reform bill that Congress adopted in 2016 falls far short of the changes needed to truly keep our children safe from harmful chemicals. And because the public deserves better, the Center for Environmental Health could not support the bill.

But CEH did win some important victories in the chemical reform bill. The good news:

  • For the first time, the bill calls on EPA to make safety judgments about potentially risky chemicals, with deadlines and schedules to make those decisions. The EPA also for the first time has the authority to require companies to conduct safety testing, providing the agency with critical information necessary for making safety decisions.
  • The most toxic chemicals, called Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins (PBTs), are expected to be reviewed for safety within a few years (but to date, EPA has identified just a handful of PBTs for expedited action).
  • Many (but not all, see below) state laws, including California’s Proposition 65, can continue to provide protections from harmful chemicals. Health protective actions adopted by states before the new federal law was passed, such as many state rules that ban BPA from children’s products, will remain in force.
  • State and local governments, first responders, and health professionals can get access to information about chemical health threats that is otherwise withheld from the public

But there are many serious downsides of the bill. The bad news:

  • Most troubling, the process for chemical safety reviews is extremely slow, with each review taking as long as seven years or more. This means that a chemical like asbestos, which has been known for decades to be deadly, could remain on the market for years longer.
  • The law also sets very low annual targets. Under the law, EPA is required to review just 20 chemicals per year, and the burden of proof remains on the agency to show that chemicals are harmful. By contrast, EU regulators review hundreds of chemicals each year, and the burden is on industry to prove that their products are safe.
  • While state chemical safety laws that are currently enacted remain in force, once EPA creates new restrictions on a chemical or decides a chemical is safe, state laws regulating that chemical will be nullified. What’s worse, during the seven years or more that EPA takes to review a chemical, states are barred from creating new protections from that chemical, even if independent science shows it may cause serious health problems.
  • Finally, much of the science that EPA will rely on to conduct reviews of chemical hazards is outdated and could favor industry interests over public health protections.

CEH is now working to watchdog the EPA’s process of implementing the new chemical reform bill. We will continue to pressure the agency for the strongest possible protections under the new law. You can help!

  • Make your voice heard when EPA takes public comments on implementing the new rules. Sign up for our action alerts to call on EPA to use the best available science and take actions that are most protective of the health of our families.
  • Let the decision makers know that we expect the EPA to act quickly to protect our families from disease-causing chemicals. While the schedule in the law is slow, it does not have to be, and your voice can influence the EPA making good decisions more quickly, especially on chemicals for which there is already a lot of data.