The overhaul of the Toxic substances control act is poisoned by chemical lobbying

From ToxicLeaks

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 was a great step forward at the time, but today it's failing to protect Americans from the threat of chemicals. A reform is therefore necessary. But chemical corporations are lobbying heavily to twist the overhaul of the TSCA and make it even weaker than it is today.

An outdated Toxic Substances Control Act[edit | edit source]

The TSCA was voted in 1976 but has never been updated since, and today it's completely unable to protect citizens from chemicals. The EPA is clearly failing to assess the safety of the countless new chemicals introduced every year. The agency admits having “only been able to require testing on a little more than 200 existing chemicals”. That's a tiny part of the 62,000 new chemicals that have appeared since 1976. And they have only banned 5 chemicals out of these 200, despite growing concerns on many commonly used chemicals. Indeed there are at least 3,000 substances called high-production-volume (HPV) chemicals, which means corporations produce at least one million pounds of them. And very few of these chemicals have undergone stringent tests even though millions of peoples are exposed to them.

Lynn Goldman, former EPA assistant administrator, underlined the problem in a Congressional hearing in 1994 : “It’s almost as if ... we have to, first, prove that chemicals are risky before we can have the testing done to show whether or not the chemicals are risky.” Meanwhile, more and more lawsuits are targeting chemical companies like Monsanto and DuPont, which reflects that the chemicals produced by these corporations are unsafe and lead to terrible health issues for the people exposed to them. This calls for a reform of the TSCA, but unfortunately, corporate greed is weighing heavily on the lawmaking process and environmentalist groups are worried that the overhaul of the TSCA will make matters even worse !

An intense chemical corporations lobbying campaign to warp TCSA overhaul[edit | edit source]

There is staggering evidence that chemical corporations have been lobbying against any substantial improvement of the TSCA, instead, they are pushing for the overhaul to suit their interests. A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists exposes the strategy of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a lobby that includes chemical companies like DuPont or Dow but also ExxonMobil Chemical. The ACC has set up a website to present its propositions for the reform. This is quite shocking, as Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, stresses : “We’re apparently at the point in the minds of some people in the Congress that laws intended to regulate polluters are now written by the polluters themselves”.

And the ACC has spent enormous sums of money to make sure its ideas for the reform would be used by lawmakers. The funding started in 2007, when legislators started discussing the necessary reform of the TCSA. And the amounts have been growing ever since, from $2.4 million in 2007 to more than $10 million annually the last couple of years. And the content of the two reform bills working their way through Congress is proof that the lobbying was successful, because the bills introduce new rules that will actually increase the risk for citizens.

The new TSCA will make it easier for toxic chemicals to be approved[edit | edit source]

One of the new dispositions that worry environmentalist groups the most is the “low priority” disposition. This disposition would enable the EPA to declare some chemicals “low priority” if it's deemed “likely to meet” the safety standards and therefore it wouldn't have to undergo any testing. Andy Igrejas, head of national campaigns of “Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families”, highlights the danger of such a rule : “A low-priority designation is a new form of pro-active non-assessment. It is effectively a hall pass for the chemical; a declaration that EPA will not review the chemical so it is therefore free to roam the economy and potentially your home without any restrictions. All on the back of “likely to.” This distinction, which confers many of the benefits of being declared “safe” but without a thorough safety evaluation, is likely to be coveted by chemical companies.”

A paper by the San Francisco Chronicle recently exposed that the ACC submitted this rule to lawmakers, which makes a lot of sense because the disposition plays into the hands of the chemical companies. Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, indicates that the reform discussed in the House would also allow chemical companies to ask the EPA to review chemicals within a very short delay. This would tie the EPA's hands because the agency would no longer be able to assess the safety of the other chemicals, and we can bet that chemical corporations will drown the EPA with harmless chemicals so that the truly dangerous ones are left untested. But the worse part is that the TSCA overhaul will not only tone down the safety testing on the federal level, it will also make it harder for states to decide rules that protect their people from dangerous chemicals.

States will be prevented from protecting their citizens from dangerous chemicals[edit | edit source]

The dispositions of these bills are also alarming because they could constrain the ability of the states to take action against dangerous chemicals until the EPA makes its own review. But as we have seen, the EPA takes a huge amount of time to go through the process of evaluating the safety of chemicals and then acting on that evaluation. This could mean several years of delay before the states can remove unsafe chemicals from the environment, several years of dangerous exposure for citizens that will develop health issues. This change is strongly criticised by many state authorities. The state attorney generals of Maine, Oregon, New York, Washington and Iowa wrote a letter to the chairman of the environment committee of the Senate, Jim Inhofe : “We oppose S. 697’s broadly expanded limitations on the ability of states to take appropriate action under state laws to protect against … risks posed by chemicals and chemical mixtures …

In contrast to the existing law, S. 697 would prevent states from adopting new laws or regulations, or taking other administrative action, ‘prohibiting or restricting the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce or use’ of a chemical substance deemed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to be a ‘high-priority’ for federal review even before any federal restrictions have been established.” Indeed this shows that the current version of the bill would tie the hands of state legislatures and will destroy the rules that currently exists.

This is what Sharon Lerner, from The Intercept, infers from a close analysis of both bills : “If the worst provisions from both bills wind up in the final law, the new legislation will gut laws that have put Oregon, California, Maine, Vermont, Minnesota and Washington state at the forefront of chemical regulation.” This is the height of hypocrisy. Polluting companies fight tooth and nail against the EPA when the agency tries to make reluctant states reduce coal-generated energy, but they applaud federal regulation, when it weakens ambitious state rule that would protect the environment and the people.

The TSCA's overhaul is well on its way, and while it should be good news that this outdated law is being reformed, the current dispositions in the two reform bills would actually make the situation worse. This is why the nefarious influence of the chemical lobbies such as the ACC must be exposed and lawmakers must be reminded that their job is to make people safe, and that means saying no to the rules that the chemical industry would have them vote.