Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: EPA Antes Up on TSCA Reform

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Today, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson unveiled the Obama Administration’s “Essential Principles for Reform of Chemicals Management Legislation.”  The principles’ significance lies not so much in the words they contain, but rather in what they symbolize:  A clear confirmation that this Administration understands that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) needs fundamental reform and that it is ready and willing to engage in making it happen.

There’s no shortage of principles and platforms for TSCA reform, of course.  See my earlier post comparing and contrasting the platform of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition – of which EDF is a member – with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) “principles for modernizing TSCA.”

So what does EPA’s entrance into the fray mean?   It is a real sea change to have the very agency charged with implementing TSCA be willing to say the law isn’t working, that it doesn’t provide EPA with the tools it need to do its job.

Who would know better than EPA?

For the first time EPA is publicly affirming it needs substantially greater authority if it is to protect human health and the environment from dangerous chemicals.  And the preamble to the principles makes clear that EPA stands ready to engage, to work for TSCA reform, and that such reform should happen “quickly.”  That’s great news, and a major reversal from the last EPA’s view that TSCA was working just fine as is.

It’s also noteworthy that Ms. Jackson identified the principles as those of the Obama Administration, not just EPA.  That reflects the fact that they went through a thorough interagency review process – and it also means they have the backing of the White House.

I’m not going to attempt to dissect or parse in detail the new Administration principles here.  I’ll only say they encompass most of the elements EDF and others have for years been arguing are essential to TSCA reform, including:

  • a requirement that industry develop and provide to EPA the data needed to determine whether chemicals – both new and existing – are safe;
  • far greater and easier authority for EPA to require additional testing of chemicals;
  • assessment of chemical safety against a health-based standard, rather than the cost-benefit “unreasonable risk” standard that has been the downfall of the current TSCA;
  • an obligation to address the higher risks to sensitive subpopulations, including children, workers and communities suffering disproportionate impacts from chemicals;
  • authority to reassess safety when a chemical’s production or use changes or new information emerges;
  • authority to require use and exposure information from downstream users as well as chemical makers;
  • narrowing the ability of industry to claim its submissions as confidential business information, and requiring an up-front justification for any such claims; and
  • the need for a dedicated source of funding to support EPA’s implementation of TSCA, derived from chemical manufacturers.

Not a bad start for the new leadership at EPA.

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