US Senate bill will force producers to prove chemical safety

04 February 2010 20:40  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The top US Senate official responsible for chemicals control legislation said on Thursday he soon will introduce a bill to force manufacturers to prove their products are safe before they enter commerce.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey), said he will soon move legislation to completely overhaul the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

In the first of long-anticipated hearings on TSCA reform, Lautenberg said that his still developing legislation - which he referred to as his “safer chemicals bill” - will correct broad shortcomings in the existing statute.

“My safer chemicals bill will have a simple goal: force chemical makers to prove that their products are safe before they end up in a store, in our homes or in our bodies,” Lautenberg said.

Lautenberg is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, part of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. His subcommittee has primary jurisdiction over TSCA.

“We already regulate pesticides and pharmaceuticals this way,” Lautenberg said of his plan to require safety-first proof of chemicals in commerce. “It’s just common sense that we do the same for chemicals that are used in everyday consumer products.”

Lautenberg said he is fully aware of the key role that chemicals play in commerce and everyday lives.

“There’s no question that chemicals are essential to our modern lives,” he said, noting that they are used in household cleaners to kill germs, in life-saving medical equipment and in insulation, wind turbines and fuel additives that contribute to the fight against global warming.

“But when we use these products, the chemicals in them can end up in our bodies,” he said, adding “We have a potentially serious situation.”

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on Lautenberg’s subcommittee, cautioned that “the mere presence of a substance in the human body, at any level, cannot be interpreted to mean that adverse effects will occur”.

He said he is open to the idea of modernising TSCA, but he warned that he would oppose extreme solutions.

“To the proponents of radical reform and supporters of the precautionary principle, let me be very clear,” Inhofe said, “My principles for any regulatory or statutory changes to TSCA must be based on the best available science, including risk assessment."

He said changes to TSCA also “must include cost-benefit considerations, must protect proprietary information and must prioritise reviews for existing chemicals”.

“Further, I will not support changes that encourage litigation, allow for activist enforcement or that compel product substitution,” he said.

The hearing held on Thursday is just the first of many that likely will be held by the Lautenberg subcommittee on TSCA reform. 

In addition, several other Senate and House committees also have some level of jurisdiction for TSCA, and the reform debate is expected to take up much of this year with final legislation not expected before 2011.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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