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Saturday, January 23, 2010

CRS Issue Statement on Chemicals in Commerce

Linda-Jo Schierow, Coordinator
Specialist in Environmental Policy

The useful properties of thousands of chemicals provide a wide range of benefits to American consumers and bolster the U.S. economy. However, experiences with certain chemicals—for example, DDT, leaded gasoline, and asbestos—have shown that adverse effects sometimes occur when there is insufficient information about potential toxicity and widespread human or wildlife exposure. To reduce the risk of harmful effects, Congress has enacted various statutes to gather information about chemicals and to manage their production and use. Existing statutes address risks to consumers, workers, and communities of chemical production and use, but issues remain. Recent congressional interest has focused on the adequacy of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, and the Consumer Product Safety Act with respect to the regulation of industrial chemical processes and production, agricultural use of pesticides, and contamination of consumer products, respectively.

Some Members and analysts have questioned the adequacy of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for generating information about the properties of chemicals in commerce and for regulating unreasonable risks. Since TSCA was enacted in 1976, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has promulgated regulations to restrict production or use of five chemicals, and no chemicals have been restricted since EPA's proposed rule to ban asbestos was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1991. Critics of TSCA would amend the law or rewrite it to more closely resemble Europe's recently adopted law, which will phase out more dangerous chemicals in favor of less risky substitutes and force manufacturers to prove the safety of their products. Under TSCA, EPA must prove that a chemical poses an unreasonable risk prior to regulation. Others who lack faith in TSCA propose bans of specific chemicals. Congress has repeatedly amended TSCA to address concerns about asbestos, radon, lead, and elemental mercury. Putting aside the adequacy of TSCA with respect to the regulation of traditional chemical substances, TSCA's definitions and implementing regulations appear to some to be poorly suited to the potential risks posed by newer forms of chemicals that now are entering commerce, such as the products of biotechnology or nanotechnology. In fact, nanomaterials pose significant challenges to regulators across the federal government.

Date of Report: January 6, 2010
Number of Pages: 4
Order Number: IS40268
Price: $7.95

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