TSCA Reform – Let’s Fix the Problem

Industrial Barrels containing toxic waste

PSR-LA has been closely tracking the national conversation on reforming our toxic chemical law – The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 – also known as “TSCA”. A new proposal has emerged that unfortunately, fails to protect our health. Passing laws that better regulate chemicals is an urgent priority, but we have to make sure it’s done in a way that actually protects health. We must protect the health of the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and children, workers, and communities living fenceline to production. Of particular importance to PSR-LA members is a recent proposal that would make it even more difficult for doctors and professionals to receive medical information necessary to treat their patients.

Fortunately, Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, will hold a hearing tomorrow about TSCA reform proposals – and we invite you to listen in. The hearing starts early, Wednesday, July 31st  at 9:30am ET. Click here to read about the panelists and see the livestream when the hearing starts .

Statement on S. 10009, The Chemical Safety Improvement Act

PSR-LA is the convener of the statewide coalition, CHANGE (Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy), which is a statewide coalition of 37 environmental health and environmental justice groups, health organizations, labor advocates, community-based groups, parent organizations, faith groups, and others who are concerned with the impacts of toxic chemicals on human health and the environment. This week, CHANGE recently sent a letter and statement to Senator Boxer, expressing our strong concerns about the latest TSCA reform proposal, S. 10009, The Chemical Safety Improvement Act. PSR-LA stands by this strong statement of opposition: We strongly oppose the CSIA unless significant amendments are made. The language of this bill does not advance prevention, protect public health, nor reduce harm. The CSIA does not fix many of TSCA’s significant problems that have left the public unprotected from toxic chemicals. Specific shortcomings include:

  1. The CSIA’s safety standard fails to shift the burden of proof about chemical health and safety onto the chemical manufacturers to demonstrate their products are safe. The bill too closely parallels the failed language of TSCA by saying a chemical must not pose an “unreasonable risk to human health or the environment under intended uses.” We support the language of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, as well as the introduced Safe Chemicals Act (S.696), both of which call for “reasonable certainty of no harm.” That language provides a much higher margin of health and safety, and level of protection for the public, as it shifts the burden of proof onto the manufacturer to demonstrate “reasonable certainty of no harm.” Surely this is the standard we want for our children.
  2. The CSIA does not adequately consider aggregate exposure, which is the reality in the world today. We know from biomonitoring studies that everyone is exposed repeatedly to multiple environmental chemicals. By not requiring an assessment of cumulative exposure, the CSIA repeats the mistake in TSCA by looking at one chemical at a time without acknowledging cumulative impacts from ongoing exposures.
  3. There is no mandate that disproportionately-affected communities and vulnerable populations receive added protections. Over-exposed and burdened fence-line communities, workers who handle chemicals, and people at sensitive developmental stages, such as infants and pregnant women, are more vulnerable to harm from chemical exposures than the general population. They require a law that protects their ability to thrive and attain their right to good health by addressing the impacts of disproportionate exposures that lead to actual reductions in toxic chemicals in their home and work environments.
  4. The CSIA effectively curtails the rights of states to determine their own standards of protection in environmental, occupational, and other public health arenas. The bill would prohibit states from taking action once the U.S. EPA designated a chemical as either a high or low priority, or if EPA simply began a safety determination process. A waiver provision for states to act is limited and cumbersome and is unlikely to succeed in many cases. We need a federal law that is as protective as possible, but states absolutely must retain the right to set a higher bar than federal minimums. Furthermore, under the CSIA, “no State or political subdivision of a State may establish or continue to enforce…” current laws that in any way pertain to a chemical that EPA begins to address. This means that current and proposed regulations that offer real preventive action about chemicals would be invalidated. This would be particularly harmful in California, affecting occupational health regulations (e.g., registering the presence of carcinogens in occupational settings, the 200-plus permissible exposure limits/PELS unique to the state), environmental health regulations (e.g., the Safer Consumer Products Regulations) and public health activities (e.g., about lead).
  5. The CSIA has no timelines or milestones for EPA action, instead calling for EPA action “from time to time” or in a “timely manner.” We know from experience that regulatory action to prevent or reduce harm from chemicals is a long process in the best of circumstances. EPA must have firm deadlines and deliverables to advance its obligations under any new law.
  6. The CSIA requires the use of cost-benefit analysis at the critical regulatory decision-making point where a phase out or ban of a chemical is contemplated. While the bill provisions state that only health considerations can be factors in making a “safety determination” (which we support), it must also be the case that regulatory decisions, including but not limited to phase-out or bans of problematic chemicals, should also be based solely on health factors. Traditional cost-benefit analyses are unlikely to adequately consider externalities such as costs to the public health, the need for environmental remediation, decline in property values, and reduced productivity at work, for example. The end result will mean some of the most toxic chemicals will remain in commerce despite their failure to meet the safety standard.
  7. The CSIA makes an unsupportable assumption that lack of information equals a lack of harm. Any bill reforming TSCA should require a minimum toxicity data set be submitted and reviewed before any chemical is designated as a “low priority.”
  8. Confidential Business Information (CBI) provisions in the CSIA include a “gag rule” on medical professionals who receive information necessary to treat patients who may have been harmed by exposure to toxic chemicals. This restricts health care providers from carrying out their mission to “do no harm.” The CSIA’s CBI provisions also impair the ability of public health practitioners to do their job, and reduce the right-to-know for workers, employers, and other members of the public.
  9. The CSIA makes no special provisions for nanomaterials despite the fact that they are insufficiently studied, differ structurally from their parent compounds, and may present new health hazards and risks.
  10. There is no language in the CSIA that allows the EPA to collect fees to help pay for safety assessments or determinations. Coupled with the lack of enforceable deadlines, this ensures that meaningful action to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals will be extremely modest.
  11. The CSIA has no provisions that support the development of green chemistry-based alternatives. The bill needs meaningful incentives in the bill that strengthen innovation in the marketplace for non-toxic and less toxic alternatives that promote safety and economic growth.

Read the statement as a PDF here. For more information, please contact Ana Mascareñas, Policy & Communications Director, [email protected](213) 689-9170.

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