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Friday, August 5, 2011

Proposed Reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in the 112th Congress: S. 847 Compared with Current Law

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Thirty-five years of experience implementing and enforcing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) have demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of the law and led many to propose legislative changes to TSCA’s core provisions. Stakeholders appear to agree that TSCA needs to be updated, although there is disagreement about the extent and nature of any proposed revisions. S. 847 in the 112th Congress legislation would amend core provisions of TSCA Title I. This report compares key provisions of S. 847, as introduced, with current law (15 U.S.C. 2601 et seq.).

Generally, S. 847 would increase the amount of information about chemical toxicity and usage that chemical manufacturers and processors would be required to submit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and would facilitate EPA regulation of toxic chemicals. The bill directs EPA to establish, by rule, varied or tiered minimum data set requirements for different chemical substances or categories of substances. Data would be required from chemical manufacturers and processors for all chemicals within 5 years of the date of enactment of S. 847, earlier for high-priority chemicals. All chemicals already in commerce are to be placed on a list and prioritized by EPA into three groups based on the need for risk management. A chemical must be included in the highest priority class if it “is, or is degraded and metabolized into, a persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic substance with the potential for widespread exposure to humans or other organisms.” EPA is required to determine whether chemicals in the top two priority classes, as well as all new chemicals, meet a stringent new safety standard, given the imposition of any needed restrictions on manufacture, processing, distribution, use, or disposal. The bill would prohibit any activities with respect to an evaluated chemical substance that the EPA had not specifically allowed in the safety standard determination.

In contrast, current law authorizes data collection from manufacturers only if exposure is expected to be substantial or if EPA determines that a chemical may pose an unreasonable risk. TSCA as currently written allows all chemicals to enter and remain in commerce unless EPA can show that a chemical poses “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” EPA then must regulate to control unreasonable risk, but only to the extent necessary using the “least burdensome” means of available control. This TSCA standard has been interpreted to require cost-benefit balancing.

S. 847 also would add new sections to TSCA. Of particular significance is a section authorizing actions that would allow U.S. implementation of three international agreements, which the United States has signed but not yet ratified. Other new sections would provide authority for EPA to support research in so-called “green” engineering and chemistry, promote alternatives to toxicity testing on animals, encourage research on children’s environmental health, and require biomonitoring of pregnant women and infants. A “hot spots” provision would require EPA to identify locations where residents are disproportionately exposed to pollution and to develop strategies for reducing their risks.

Key provisions of S. 847 are compared with current law in Tables 1 through 6

Date of Report: July 25, 2011
Number of Pages: 51
Order Number: R41937
Price: $29.95

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