Congress to Rewrite the Rulebook on Chemical Safety: The Good News and the Bad

Statement by Andrew Rosenberg, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published May 23, 2016

WASHINGTON (May 18, 2016)—For the first time in 40 years, Congress will pass a bill to overhaul how Americans are kept safe from harmful chemicals in commercial products. The final bill provides progress in some important ways—but falls short in others, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.

“A new chemical safety bill is a long time coming. Our policies for protecting Americans from unsafe chemicals are wholly inadequate and badly outdated. One important change is that under this new bill, the EPA will have greater authority and resources to review new and existing chemicals in commerce. Further, EPA will have the authority to require companies to provide testing data, hopefully speeding up the review process.  Since 1976, the EPA has only been able to evaluate a tiny fraction of the more than 80,000 chemicals in industrial use. We need to use the best available independent science to make sure that the chemicals in our communities, our workplaces, and the products we buy are safe.

“The legislation also imposes mandatory, enforceable deadlines on the EPA to regulate chemicals and gives the agency the ability to prioritize and expedite reviews of chemicals that are persistent and bioaccumlative and have high toxicity. Further, it requires the agency to conduct a health-based risk assessment and explicitly directs the EPA to protect vulnerable populations from exposure, including workers, children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

“Despite these improvements, it’s disappointing to see that under the new bill, states will not have as much flexibility as they currently do to proactively protect their residents from unsafe chemicals. States seeking to protect the public from unsafe chemicals might have to wait years for the EPA to finish its review, or engage in a laborious waiver process if they want to take action quickly.  Some members of Congress have themselves raised this real public health concern.

 “Despite these concerns we look forward to strong and aggressive implementation of this new law, to make sure it does as much as possible to defend public health and safety. The EPA will have a big responsibility under this bill, and it must carry it out free from undue political or industry influence. 

“While there was a missed opportunity to do more, we recognize the benefits that some of the tools in this legislation provide the EPA, and applaud those members of Congress and their staff who worked tirelessly to strengthen this critical legislation. We will continue to press for further improvements in chemical safety regulation, as we have an obligation to protect Americans from unsafe and untested chemicals, today and in the future.”