FUKUSHIMA Industry and the public resists contemplating the not-so-impossible Fukushima Nuclear Plant
DEEPWATER HORIZON One year later, the flow - of anger, litigation, and coastal damage - drags on. Burning oil rig
TOXICS What's more politically toxic: untested chemicals or greater EPA authority?
LEMUR ISLAND Branson's proposal makes him a modern-day Noah Endangered lemurs
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TCSA) doesn’t, in fact, control many substances.
The 1976 legislation grandfathered in the vast majority of chemicals already in use. And it limits the EPA’s ability to require testing. Of the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market today, only a few hundred have undergone required testing for their effect on people, land, water, and air. Attempts to strengthen EPA’s oversight are once again being considered in Congress.

Amy Westervelt Amy Westervelt

This latest version, introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, (D-N.J.), includes revisions based on suggestions from multiple stakeholders. The result is a bill better set up to actually protect the public. The existing law takes an “innocent until proven guilty” approach to chemicals, restricting the EPA from regulating any chemical until it’s been deemed dangerous. The new legislation would bring U.S. regulation more in line with international standards. Backed by scientists, environmentalists and public health advocates - and the chemical lobby - it’s got a good chance of passing.

But... How will the EPA take on comprehensive toxic substance regulation at the same time its budget is being cut?

Elizabeth Grossman Elizabeth Grossman

I think this could get out of the Senate, but in the House, this bill would originate in the Energy and Commerce committee, where the mood under Republican leadership is quite antiregulatory. Let’s just say that TSCA reform is not one of its priorities. The one way it could move through the House is if the Democrats sell it as a health and safety, consumer protection measure; it’s hard to object to those provisions. What also may help the bill advance is the fact that the market is already moving much faster to replace chemicals with health hazard concerns than any regulation could.

What I’m watching for: Under TSCA, chemical manufacturers can withhold all sorts of information about their chemicals under the confidential business information provisions. One of the biggest challenges in getting meaningful reform is going to be those provisions: expanding the information industry is required to share, particularly about new chemicals.

But... One question is whether the EPA has the resources, including the general staffing capacity, to actually implement what the bill is now proposing.