Whitehouse Cheers Passage of Bill to Protect the Public from Toxic Chemicals
Senate Clears Priority for Rhode Island Officials and Leading Companies
Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse applauded the Senate’s unanimous approval last evening of legislation to help protect Americans from toxic chemicals in everyday products by improving the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
“Our main toxic chemicals law hasn’t done nearly enough to protect Americans’ health and our environment. It’s stuck states like Rhode Island with the difficult job of protecting the public from complicated chemicals and saddled businesses with a confusing patchwork of rules and regulations,” said Whitehouse. “This bill will provide consumers with confidence that the products they use are safe. It will also give more certainty to businesses. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to craft this legislation and glad to see it advance.”
First passed in 1976, TSCA was supposed to protect the public and our environment from new and existing chemicals in the marketplace. However, in the almost 40 years since, the government has only been able to use TSCA to restrict the use of just five chemicals of the tens of thousands in use—and even failed to ban asbestos. As a result, potentially harmful chemicals like BPA and flame retardants 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 that research suggests could be linked to a range of harmful effects.
While allowing states to maintain their toxic chemical protection regimes, the legislation that passed last evening ensures review of all chemicals currently in commerce and that new chemicals are safe before they enter the marketplace.
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 complex patchwork of regulations across the country that are burdensome for businesses. Both Rhode Island officials and leading Ocean State businesses have been outspoken in their support of improving TSCA.
“The passage of this Act is long overdue and puts in place significant measures to protect the health and welfare of the public and our environment,” said Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. “I commend Senator Whitehouse for his leadership on this issue and his work to build a bi-partisan consensus to support and pass the Act.”
The new legislation, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, makes a number of changes to the way the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protects consumers from toxic chemicals. Named for former-Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who was a tireless champion for reforming TSCA before his death in 2013, the bill would:
- Require safety reviews for all chemicals in commerce;
- Going forward, require EPA to ensure new chemicals are safe before they can enter into commerce;
- Ensure the EPA takes into consideration only the impact on health and the environment when determining whether to allow a chemical to be sold or manufactured;
- Require chemical companies to help cover the cost of testing chemicals for safety;
- Preserve strong private rights of action to hold industry accountable for negligence and harm;
- Set federal standards that will provide regulatory certainty for industry; and,
- Require EPA to base its safety determinations on ensuring the most vulnerable among us—children, pregnant women, the elderly, and chemical workers—are protected.
Senator Whitehouse initially opposed the bill because of a regulatory void that would have prohibited states from creating or enforcing state policies while EPA assessed chemicals for safety—what he dubbed a regulatory “death zone.” Working with the bill’s chief sponsors, Whitehouse helped broker a compromise to strengthen the bill, including a protection for states to protect their citizens from hazardous chemicals if the state regulation meets basic criteria. This solution enabled environmentally-minded Senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee like Whitehouse, Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to support the legislation, and got it out of the EPW Committee with a strong 15-5 bipartisan vote.
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