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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Proposed Reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in the 113th Congress: S. 1009 Compared with S. 696 and Current Statute

Jerry H. Yen
Analyst in Environmental Policy

Thirty-seven years of experience implementing and enforcing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) since its enactment have demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of the law and led many to propose legislative changes to TSCA’s core provisions. The Safe Chemicals Act (S. 696) and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S. 1009) introduced in the 113
th Congress would amend TSCA Title I. This CRS report compares key provisions of S. 696 and S. 1009 with current law (15 U.S.C. 2601 et seq.). 

Existing Law 

TSCA as enacted authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require manufacturers to develop data about chemical toxicity and exposure if EPA determines that a chemical may pose an unreasonable risk, or if chemical exposure is expected to be substantial. TSCA allows a chemical to enter and remain in commerce unless EPA can show that it 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. The current law preempts state and local laws regarding chemicals specifically regulated by EPA. 

Proposed Legislation 

S. 696 would amend TSCA to require chemical manufacturers and processors to submit specified information about the toxicity and usage of chemicals in commerce to EPA. The information would be used by EPA to determine whether a chemical would meet the safety standard of “a reasonable certainty of no harm from aggregate exposure,” given the imposition of any needed restrictions on manufacture, processing, distribution, use, or disposal. S. 696 would prohibit uses of evaluated chemical substances unless they were determined by EPA to meet the safety standard. S. 696 would increase public access to information about EPA’s decisions and to some information about chemicals that currently is treated as confidential business information. S. 696 would rarely preempt state and local laws.

S. 1009 would authorize EPA to require manufacturers to develop new information if EPA can show need in the context of an evaluative framework for chemical risk assessment and management. The bill would require EPA to screen all chemicals in commerce and assign each to one of three categories:

  • high priority for risk assessment, 
  • low priority for risk assessment, or 
  • in need of additional information. 
S. 1009 would require EPA regulation, by rule or order, ensuring “no unreasonable risk of harm from exposure” to a chemical under the intended conditions of use. S. 1009 would preempt new state and local laws for chemicals identified as high or low priority.

Both Senate bills would evaluate the existing inventory of chemicals in U.S. commerce since 1976 to allow prioritization of the estimated 9,000 chemicals currently produced and used in the United States. In addition, both bills would explicitly require manufacturers to substantiate some requests for protection of confidential business information from public disclosure.

S. 696 (but not S. 1009) also would add a new section to TSCA to allow U.S. implementation of three international agreements. S. 1009 would amend an existing section of TSCA to allow implementation of one treaty. Other provisions included in S. 696 would authorize EPA to support research in “green” engineering and chemistry, promote alternatives to toxicity testing on animals, encourage research on children’s environmental health, require biomonitoring of pregnant women and infants, require EPA to identify “hot spots” where residents are exposed disproportionately to pollution, and direct EPA to develop strategies for reducing their risks. Key provisions of S. 696 and S. 1009 are compared with current law in Tables 1 through 6 of this CRS report.

Date of Report: October 23, 2013
Number of Pages: 85
Order Number: R43136
Price: $29.95

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