Senate Committee Approves “Safe Chemicals Act”

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has approved the “Safe Chemicals Act,” which was introduced last year by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). The legislation is intended to protect Americans from dangerous toxic chemicals that are found in everyday consumer products.

“This vote is a major milestone in our effort to fix America’s broken system for regulating toxic chemicals,” said Lautenberg. “Children and families could be in danger from everyday consumer products, and the U.S. Government is virtually powerless to do anything to make sure that the chemicals used in products are safe. For too long, the chemical industry has deceived the public and the government about the safety of their products. They have ripped a page out of the tobacco industry’s playbook. Today we are saying ‘game over’ – it’s time to protect the public health.”

Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, introduced the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011” to modernize the “Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976” (TSCA). The bill gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the tools it needs to require health and safety testing of toxic chemicals and places the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe. Under current law, the EPA can call for safety testing only after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States, and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances. Lautenberg has been working to reform TSCA since 2005.

Scientists and environmental groups have expressed concern about chemicals that are used in the production of a wide-range of consumer products including:

  • Rug cleaners and stain-resistant carpet
  • Non-stick cookware
  • Vinyl products
  • Dishwashing liquids
  • Fabric softeners
  • Upholstery
  • Insulation, and
  • Hair dyes

The Safe Chemicals Act would:

  • Require manufacturers to develop and submit safety data for each chemical they produce, while avoiding duplicative or unnecessary testing.
  • Prioritize chemicals based on risk, so that EPA can focus resources on evaluating those most likely to cause harm while working through the backlog of untested existing chemicals.
  • Place the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of their chemicals.
  • Restrict uses of chemicals that cannot be proven safe.
  • Establish a public database to catalog the information submitted by chemical manufacturers and the EPA’s safety determinations.
  • Promote innovation and development of safe chemical alternatives, and bring some new chemicals onto the market using an expedited review process.

“Americans today moved one step closer to the chemical protections we deserve. For the first time since 1976, comprehensive [Toxic Substances Control Act ] reform has been voted out of a committee. This sets the stage for the Senate to finally give the Environmental Protection Agency the tools it needs to protect all of us from toxic chemicals found in products we use every day,” said Daniel Rosenberg, director of the toxic chemicals reform project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“While the panel voted along party lines, with all Republicans opposing the measure, outside the Beltway support for stronger protections against toxic chemicals is not a partisan issue. The public is fully aware of the health threats posed by toxic chemicals and strongly supports updating this broken, outdated and ineffective law.”

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