PSR-LA advocates for fundamental shifts in the ways in which we produce, regulate, and store hazardous chemicals in the United States. Our work to protect human health and the environment from the impacts of toxic chemicals centers around reform of the Toxic Substance Control Act, the primary federal law tasked with regulating chemicals, and around the safety and security of people living adjacent to chemical facilities and industries.
The Toxic Substance Control Act
Current chemical management in the United States does not effectively prioritize the health of humans and the environment. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – the primary federal law tasked with regulating and restricting chemicals – was created in 1976. In the decades since Congress passed TSCA, rates of serious diseases like asthma, autism, infertility, birth defects, learning disabilities, and other health conditions have only increased.
TSCA authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to require reporting, testing, and restrictions of chemicals substances. At the time of its implementation, 62,000 chemicals already in use were grandfathered into law without significant testing for their effects on human health. Today there are more than 80,000 chemicals in use, that number increasing each year, and the EPA has required testing on less than 1% of those chemicals, and taken action to regulate only five.
Many loopholes in TSCA allow manufacturers and businesses to sell a chemical or product without generating or disclosing information about its risks to human health and the environment. Under the law, the EPA can only require testing if it can prove that the chemical poses an unreasonable risk. Additionally, the current chemical regulatory system is limited by:
Reliance on a “dose makes the poison” framework that discounts low-level chemical exposures without a comprehensive science-based understanding of the long-term impacts
Lack of consideration of the cumulative and synergistic impacts that chemicals may have on humans
It’s failure to require the safety of chemicals before their sale and use
The risk-based framework that requires regulators to prove unreasonable risk prior to taking action to reduce exposure
The inability to effectively gather information about a chemical from its producers, or require producers to accept greater responsibility for the life cycle impacts of their products
For more information on our approach to chemical policy and what it should look like, take a look at The Louisville Charter for Safer Chemicals, Applying the Precautionary Principle from the Science and Environmental health Network’s website, and Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy.
More than 134 million Americans live in the danger zones surrounding 3,433 facilities in several industries that store or use highly hazardous chemicals. Millions more people work, play, learn, and pray in these areas. Research shows that residents of these danger zones are disproportionately African American or Latino, have higher rates of poverty than the U.S. as a whole, and have lower housing values, incomes, and education levels than the national average.
Following the West, Texas chemical plant explosion in 2013, President Obama issued an Executive Order aimed at improving the safety and security of chemical facilities in the U.S. In response, a report was released that documented the pervasiveness of chemical plant incidents since 2009, and directed the EPA to issue updated chemical plant safety and security policies aimed at eliminating the possibility of future chemical disasters.
PSR-LA is a member of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance and is working to ensure that our chemical security laws are up to the task of protecting the millions of residents that live within these danger zones. We are working with national partners to ensure that the Executive Order on chemical security is effective in reducing the risks faced by residents by creating a precautionary approach that strongly enforces existing laws while promoting safer alternatives.