Selected category: TSCA Reform

It’s not ‘either/or’

Richard Denison, a Lead Senior Scientist.

A recent column in the New York Times focused on some differences that have surfaced inside the environmental community during the long fight for federal chemicals policy reform. I’d like to write today about what we have in common, and how our differences can make us stronger—because I don’t want anyone to be left with the false impression that EDF believes there is only one strategy for environmentalists to pursue on the road to reform.

While we believe our approach of bipartisan engagement has been effective in moving and improving legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), we also understand and appreciate the strategies employed by other groups.  Principled opponents of legislative proposals have helped to identify legitimate concerns and to pressure lawmakers to address those concerns.  Collectively, these varied efforts have yielded a strong bipartisan Senate bill that will advance protections for public health and the environment.

EDF believes that the longstanding efforts of many state governments and state- and local-based advocates have also been essential to get us to where we are today.  These efforts have both directly addressed risks posed by toxic chemicals, and driven the chemical industry to the negotiating table on TSCA reform after years of complacency.

As essential as that state-level work has been and remains, we believe it is not sufficient.  We must also secure a strong federal system that provides EPA with the authority and resources needed to establish nationwide protections from chemical risks.  From the beginning, one of the biggest challenges in strengthening TSCA has been to strike an appropriate balance between state and federal authority.  EDF was clear early on that initial bipartisan legislative proposals were far too sweeping in their preemption of state authority (see, for example, pages 1 and 8 of my 2013 testimony on the Chemical Safety Improvement Act).  For the past two and a half years, we have worked diligently to press lawmakers to narrow that preemption and retain a strong role for states, while preserving the solid bipartisan support that is essential for getting a bill to the President’s desk.

While we have supported the Lautenberg Act, we have also fought for improvements in the bill.  As improvements were made, 60 Senators, including progressive Democrats like Sens. Whitehouse and Markey, have come to support to the bill.

Getting a strong TSCA reform bill enacted into law has demanded, and will continue to demand, input from a broad set of stakeholders. Differences in strategy and approach can strengthen, rather than diminish, that outcome.


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Sens. Dick Durbin and Ed Markey Announce Support for the Lautenberg Act

EDF Action Statement on Key New Support for Senate’s Chemical Safety Legislation
Sens. Dick Durbin and Ed Markey Announced Support for the Lautenberg Act

Washington, D.C. (October 2, 2015) – Today Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ed Markey (D-MA) announced their support for the Lautenberg Act, Senator Udall’s comprehensive legislation to fix America’s primary chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Elizabeth Thompson, President of EDFAction commented on today’s announcement:

“Today’s announcement from Senators Durbin, Markey and Udall is another major step forward in securing comprehensive legislation to ensure chemical safety. Their hard work has further strengthened a bill that is now poised to earn huge support from both sides of the aisle in the Senate. Since Frank Lautenberg’s death more than two years ago, Sen. Udall has worked tenaciously to shepherd the Lautenberg Act through the legislative process. Sens. Markey and Durbin are the latest Senators to roll up their sleeves and work to both strengthen the bill and keep it moving. Today we are even closer to a new law that can finally protect public health and the environment from harmful chemicals.”

Sens. Durbin and Markey announced their support along with changes to the bill made since the Committee markup in March.  The bill that now appears headed for the Senate floor is the result of more than two years of negotiations led on the Democratic side by the chief sponsor Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) as well as Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ).  These members have worked with the chief Republican sponsor Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK).  With the additional support of Sens. Durbin and Markey, it is clear the bill is primed to receive overwhelming support in the Senate. Reports indicate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may bring the bill to the Senate floor any day.


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Prominent national groups urge the Senate to pass the Lautenberg Act

Richard Denison, a Lead Senior Scientist.

Senior officials from a diverse group of eight prominent national public health, environmental, labor, wildlife, and animal welfare organizations sent a letter today to Senate leaders urging them to act on the Senate’s bipartisan chemical safety reform legislation.

The organizations, which collectively represent more than 25 million Americans, are:


  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
  • March of Dimes
  • Moms Clean Air Force
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • North America's Building Trades Unions
  • Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

The letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid, requests that they bring the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act to the floor of the Senate for a vote as soon as possible.  The Lautenberg ActS. 697, is the bipartisan legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s primary chemical safety law, which is nearly 40 years old and widely acknowledged to be badly broken.

The Lautenberg Act was introduced in the Senate in March and passed in revised form out of the Environment and Public Works Committee in April on a strong bipartisan vote.  With 52 cosponsors hailing from 33 states, the bill is poised to receive strong support on the Senate floor.  The groups noted that the bill represents an historic opportunity to update and strengthen our chemical safety and better protect American families, workers, wildlife and the environment.

The diverse nature of the organizations signing the letter urging passage of the Lautenberg Act is testament to the broad consensus as to both the need for TSCA reform and the strength of the legislation.

The joint letter is available here.  For more background on the Lautenberg Act and how it would address the key flaws of TSCA, click here.

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Links to essential reading on the Lautenberg Act

Richard Denison, a Lead Senior Scientist.

The full Senate is expected soon to take up and vote on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (the Lautenberg Act for short, S. 697), the bipartisan TSCA reform legislation introduced in the Senate in March and passed in revised form out of the Environment and Public Works Committee in April.

In anticipation of this, I am posting here an update to a series of blog posts that examine how the Lautenberg Act would address key flaws in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  I am also posting links to brief and detailed side-by-sides of TSCA and the two bills, and also to two posts that address the contentious issue of preemption of state authority.

These posts compare the Lautenberg Act to current TSCA, and also to the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015, H.R. 2576, the bipartisan legislation introduced in the House in May and passed by the full House in June.

All of these materials (including this post) are available at

  • How would TSCA reform legislation address key flaws in TSCA?  Update of our 5-part series on less talked-about but critically important elements of TSCA reform:
    • Enhancing testing authority
    • EPA review of new chemicals
    • How chemicals are selected for safety evaluations
    • Confidential business information
    • Consideration of costs and other non-risk factors


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New chemical reforms are vital to TSCA legislation, says former top official for EPA toxics office

Richard Denison, a Lead Senior Scientist.

In an op-ed published in today’s Roll Call, Dr. Lynn Goldman, Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, makes the case for why TSCA reform legislation needs to include changes to the provisions of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that govern requirements for new chemicals prior to market entry.

The op-ed is notable for two reasons.  First, it addresses a key difference between the Senate and House versions of TSCA reform legislation.  The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697) includes numerous upgrades to Section 5 of TSCA governing new chemicals and significant new uses of existing chemicals.  Dr. Goldman’s op-ed points to the critical improvements the Senate bill would make.  In contrast, the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576) passed by the House of Representatives would leave Section 5 unchanged.

Second, Dr. Goldman is uniquely qualified to address this issue, having served as Assistant Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency from 1993 to 1998, overseeing the office that implements TSCA.

Dr. Goldman, a pediatrician, stresses the importance to public health of reforming how EPA reviews and regulates new chemicals prior to their entry into commerce.  These provisions have never been amended since TSCA was adopted nearly 40 years ago.  That’s why it’s a vital element to include in any meaningful reform of our nation’s obsolete chemical safety law.

For more on how the Senate and House TSCA legislation compare, see these earlier posts.


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We don’t know how many chemicals are in use today. We should know.

Richard Denison, a Lead Senior Scientist.

No one knows how many chemicals are in use today.  It’s a problem that we don’t.

The TSCA Inventory lists about 85,000 chemicals, but because it is a cumulative list that started in 1979, it lists all chemicals that have been in commerce at some point since then.  It is not a list of chemicals currently on the market.

EPA periodically collects information on chemicals produced or imported above a certain volume threshold (currently set at 25,000 pounds per reporting site in the reporting year).  In the most recent data collected in 2012, companies reported producing or importing 7,700 chemicals.  However, given the volume threshold and the several exemptions from reporting requirements, we know this number is a significant underestimate of the number of chemicals in active commerce.

This means that all we know is that somewhere between 7,700 and 85,000 chemicals under TSCA’s jurisdiction are presently in commerce.  I’ve repeatedly heard industry and environmentalists cite each of these numbers in claims they make about how many chemicals are in use today.  The truth, however, clearly lies somewhere within this huge range.   Read More »

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