New bill in US Congress to broadly reform chemical controls

15 April 2010 18:16  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--New legislation was introduced on Thursday in Congress to reform US regulation of chemicals in commerce, requiring chemical makers to prove existing products were safe and to prohibit any new substances that threaten human health.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey) introduced his long-anticipated “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” to replace and reform the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which had not seen significant alteration since being enacted in 1976.

Lautenberg, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, said his bill “requires safety testing of all industrial chemicals and puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order to stay on the market”.

He said the bill also would give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “more power to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals and require manufacturers to submit information proving the safety of every chemical in production and any new chemical seeking to enter the market”.

The agency also would be given authority under the bill to demand additional information from manufacturers on any chemicals they produced.

All downstream uses of a specific chemical would have to be identified and proven to be safe if a chemical was to remain in commerce and for those new substances that producers wanted to market.

Lautenberg’s bill would continue the risk-based regulatory approach that underlies the current TSCA system.

“EPA will identify and prioritise chemicals by their likely risk, based on anticipated use, production volume, toxicity, persistence, bioaccumulation and other properties that indicate risk,” the Lautenberg bill summary said.

“Prioritising chemicals based on risk focuses the EPA’s resources on the chemicals most likely to cause harm, and allows the agency to move quickly to manage risk for those chemicals,” the summary added.

US chemical manufacturers had been anxious to see the risk-based approach of TSCA maintained in any new controls programme, preferring that regulatory system over the precautionary approach that underlied the EU’s registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH).

The bill also would establish a public database for chemical product information provided by companies to the EPA and decisions and appraisals made by the agency regarding specific substances.

This provision narrowed the circumstances in which manufacturers may shield some data from disclosure as confidential business information (CBI).

Lautenberg said that while his bill would still ensure appropriate protection for critical business data, it would provide access to CBI by chemical industry workers, by state and local governments and, in some cases, by foreign governments “as long as they protect its confidentiality”.

Lastly, the Safe Chemicals Act would establish a programme to develop market and other incentives for safer, alternative chemicals where feasible. The bill also would establish a network of science centres to conduct green chemistry research aimed at finding alternatives for priority hazardous substances for which there were no current substitutes.

The Lautenberg bill and a companion bill being introduced in the US House were expected to undergo multiple hearings by various committees in both chambers, with a final bill not expected much before the end of next year.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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