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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA):A Summary of the Act and Its Major Requirements

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

This report summarizes the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the major regulatory programs dealing with chemical production and distribution in U.S. commerce. The text is excerpted, with minor modifications, from the corresponding chapter of CRS Report RL30798, Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major Statutes Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, coordinated by David M. Bearden, which summarizes more than a dozen environmental statutes. Issues related to TSCA implementation are addressed in CRS Report RL34118, The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA): Implementation and New Challenges, by Linda-Jo Schierow.

The President’s Council on Environmental Quality proposed comprehensive federal legislation in 1971 to identify and control potentially dangerous chemicals in U.S. commerce that were not adequately regulated under other environmental statutes. President Ford signed TSCA into law on October 11, 1976. Subsequently, five titles were added to address specific concerns—asbestos in 1986 (Title II, P.L. 99-519), radon in 1988 (Title III, P.L. 100-551), lead in 1992 (Title IV, P.L. 102-550), environmental and energy issues in schools in 2007 (Title V, P.L. 110-140), and formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products in 2010 (Title VI, P.L. 111-199). In 2008, Congress added provisions to Title I, Section 6 and Section 12, banning certain activities with respect to elemental mercury (P.L. 110-414).

TSCA authorizes EPA to identify potentially dangerous chemicals in U.S. commerce that should be subject to federal control. The act authorizes EPA to gather and disseminate information about production, use, and possible adverse effects to human health and the environment of existing chemicals, and to issue “test rules” that require manufacturers and processors of potentially dangerous chemicals to conduct and report the results of scientific studies to fill information gaps. For chemicals new to U.S. commerce, TSCA requires pre-market screening and regulatory tracking of new chemical products.

If EPA identifies unreasonable risks associated with existing or new chemicals, TSCA requires the agency to initiate rulemaking to reduce risks to a reasonable level. EPA may regulate the manufacture, importation, processing, distribution, use, and/or disposal of chemicals. TSCA provides a variety of regulatory tools to EPA, ranging in severity from a total ban on production, import, and use to a requirement that a product must bear a warning label at the point of sale. However, TSCA directs EPA to use the least burdensome option that can reduce risk to a level that is reasonable, given the benefits provided by the chemical product or process.

Title I of the original statute establishes the core program, directs EPA to control risks from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and bans certain activities with respect to elemental mercury. Title II directs EPA to set standards for asbestos mitigation in schools and requires asbestos contractors to be trained and certified. Title III directs EPA to provide technical assistance to states that choose to support radon monitoring and control. Title IV provides similar assistance with respect to abatement of lead-based paint hazards. Title V addresses environmental issues at schools, including energy efficiency. Finally, Title VI directs EPA to set standards for emissions of formaldehyde from composite wood products.

Date of Report: July 29, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL31905
Price: $29.95

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