02 August 2006 19:20 [Source: ICIS news]
The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee is reviewing the 30-year-old Toxic Substance Control Act amid charges that the law is no longer adequate to deal with the growth of chemicals technology and innovations - such as nanotechnology - that may pose environmental or health risks.
A recent study by the federal Government Accountability Office charged that the statute puts the burden of testing new chemicals for human risk factors on the implementing agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, instead of on the chemicals industry.
The report also argued that existing law imposes unreasonably high standards on the agency for banning or restricting the use of new chemical products, and it charged that confidentiality guarantees in current law for proprietary business information unnecessarily limit the sharing of data with state and foreign governments.
An environmental advocate testifying at Wednesday’s hearing also argued that US chemical regulatory law should be broadened to be more compatible with the European Union’s developing program for registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals (Reach).
However, Senator James Inhofe (Republican-Oklahoma), chairman of the committee, opened Wednesday’s hearing by saying that while he is not necessarily opposed to major changes in the toxics control act, “I do not believe that American chemicals innovation should be stifled by government regulation without the clear identification of risk.”
“We need to ensure that we regulate chemicals based on demonstrated risk,” he said, “not on just the perception or assumption of risk. That ‘precautionary’ concept is one I cannot support.”
James Gulliford, assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency responsible for enforcing the statute, said the current law provides the agency with adequate authority to protect both the environment and public health from the adverse effects of chemicals. “I believe that TSCA provides EPA with the statutory tools necessary to achieve these goals,” he said.
Michael Walls, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, argued that the current statute and agency enforcement are flexible enough to deal with emerging technologies and it would be inappropriate to make major changes in the law.
Inhofe suggested that he too sees no need for a major legislative overhaul. “Perhaps we will uncover implementation problems,” he said, “that this committee, exercising its oversight, can encourage the agency to rectify.”
There is no bill pending in the Senate calling for major changes in the law.
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