June 22, 2016

Whitehouse Attends Signing of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act

Rhode Islanders cheer enactment of landmark TSCA reform law

The White House – Today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) joined President Barack Obama for the signing of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Act), to protect families from chemicals in everyday products and provide businesses with greater regulatory certainty.  The new law overhauls the long-broken Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which failed to protect the public from dangerous chemicals like asbestos.  The Lautenberg Act mandates review of all chemicals currently in commerce and requires review of new chemicals before allowing them into the marketplace.  It also ensures the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standard for assessing a chemical’s safety is based solely on human health, not cost considerations.  

Whitehouse was invited to the signing because he helped to broker the compromise that strengthened the Lautenberg Act in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  That compromise, which preserved states’ ability to regulate chemicals undergoing EPA review, helped win key support among Senate environmental champions and paved the way for the bill to advance through Congress with significant bipartisan support.

“The bill the President signed today is an historic step forward for public health and our environment,” said Whitehouse. “For the first time, Americans will know that the chemicals they encounter in everyday products are reviewed for their safety.  The law also gives much-needed certainty to businesses—like Rhode Island’s Hasbro—which were dealing with a hodgepodge of state chemical safety regulations that makes it difficult to plan and invest.  I am proud to have had a hand in crafting this law and to have helped carry on the legacy of Senator Lautenberg, who fought tirelessly to protect Americans from toxic chemicals.”

First passed in 1976, TSCA was intended to protect the public and our environment from new and existing chemicals in the marketplace.  However, the government has restricted just five chemicals under TSCA, out of the tens of thousands in use—and even failed to ban asbestos.  As a result, potentially harmful chemicals continue to be used in everyday products, like the thermal paper used at ATMs, couches, and even baby products.  This exposes millions of Americans to substances like BPA and flame retardants that research suggests could be linked to a range of harmful effects.

Concerns over the federal government’s failure to act have prompted several states, including Rhode Island, to regulate chemical substances on their own, resulting in a patchwork of regulations across the country.

“This update to the Toxic Substances Control Act is long overdue, and I commend Senator Whitehouse for his leadership in reaching a compromise on the legislation that puts in place significant measures to protect the health and welfare of the public and our environment,” said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin.

“Hasbro is very pleased that federal chemical safety reform has been passed by Congress and was signed into law today by President Obama.  We also thank Senator Whitehouse for his leadership on this important legislation. This new law will ensure a uniform, national chemical standard and process, which will ensure certainty for businesses like Hasbro operating throughout the country, avoid unworkable state patchwork regulations, while protecting consumers and the environment,” said Brian Goldner, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer, Hasbro, Inc.

The new law has the support of numerous environmental, health, labor, animal welfare, and other stakeholder groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, The Humane Society of the United States, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, March of Dimes, Moms Clean Air Force, the National Wildlife Federation, North America’s Building Trades Unions, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Dr. Steven Hamburg, Chief Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund and longtime Rhode Island resident, said, “It is fitting that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was with President Obama today when he signed the Lautenberg Act into law, because the Senator’s work was instrumental in getting this bill to the President’s desk.  For 40 years, our nation’s chemical safety law has been broken.  This new law will help protect the health of people here in Rhode Island and our environment.”

In addition to mandating review of new and existing chemicals, the Lautenberg Act sets judicially-enforceable deadlines, makes more information about chemicals available by limiting the ability of companies to claim information as confidential, and requires increased industry funding of the EPA’s work to protect public health and the environment from toxic chemicals. 

The Lautenberg Act also includes several Whitehouse-led provisions, such as a requirement for EPA to waive preemption for states that meet a set of basic criteria, and the creation of a mercury inventory and expansion of the mercury export ban to certain mercury compounds, two provisions of his Mercury Use Reduction Act of 2012.


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