Updated law boosts EPA regulatory power over chemicals
Armed with new powers from Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency is readying for action on chemicals. EPA is training its regulatory sights on three long-used solvents that agency scientists determined may pose a serious risk to consumers" health.
What"s unusual is that for the first time in more than a quarter of a century, EPA is poised to restrict chemicals that have long been on the market. And in a striking change from the past, likelihood of a federal court knocking down these regulations is much lower.
EPA"s odds of successfully restricting or banning chemicals improved markedly in June. After years of wrangling, Congress passed legislation to overhaul the nation"s 40-year-old statute governing chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act. President Barack Obama signed it into law on June 22, enacting the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. The law is named for the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg New Jersey Democrat who for decades championed legislation to improve the safety of chemicals and the chemical industry.
Three solvents, 20 flame retardants, and asbestos may be on the road to regulation.
Substances at greatest risk for EPA regulation under the new chemical safety law rank among the dozens of substances and groups of compounds that the Obama Administration has already targeted for intense scrutiny. The agency has determined that some of these compounds"or some of their uses "pose a significant risk to human health or the environment and has announced plans to regulate them.
In what is possibly the biggest change under the updated law, Congress has mandated that EPA systematically review the safety of commercial chemicals"defined as substances that aren"t regulated as food, drugs, or pesticides. The agency goal is to ensure that no chemical in U.S. commerc poses an unreasonable risk to human health or th environment.
Many health and environmental groups, product formulators, and chemical manufacturing compani are cheering this change. Activists anticipate that t new regulatory scrutiny will eliminate harmful substances from consumer products and protect people"s health. The chemical industry, meanwhile hopes that EPA findings of no risk for specific compounds will rebuild consumers" eroded faith in safety of their products.
Although the safety reviews are likely to account for the biggest overall impact of the law, the Lautenberg Act makes another momentous change to TSCA. It unfetters EPA"s ability to regulate chemicals that are on the market.
The agency hasn"t even tried to regulate a commercial substance since 1991, when a federal appeals court slapped down the agency"s ban under TSCA of cancer-causing asbestos products. "The court effectively found that EPA had to prove it had analyzed every conceivable way of restricting asbestos and had chosen the one that was least burdensome to industry," explains a statement from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of health and environmental groups that lobbied for TSCA reform. The enormous legal onus of showing that it had chosen the least burdensome option effectively halted EPA from regulating chemicals currently in commerce.
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