In 1976 the federal government passed its first major chemical regulation bill, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a law which did not change for 40 years, largely due to Republican obstructionism in Congress. On Wednesday, President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Amendment), a comprehensive overhaul of the weak, absurdly outdated legislation that hindered regulators for decades. The new measures give regulators strong powers to force corporations to comply with regulations, which include stringent risk-assessment analysis of all synthetic chemicals sold in America, and a clear system of hazard ratings for chemicals. At the signing Obama said,
“I’m absolutely confident that we can regulate toxic chemicals in a way that’s both good for our families and ultimately good for business and our economy. Here in America, folks should have the confidence to know that the laundry detergent we buy isn’t going to make us sick, the mattresses our babies sleep on aren’t going to harm them.”
For the last forty years, public health and safety concerns about commercially produced chemicals were in the hands of the industry and various pressure groups. The situation was so bad that the chemical industry itself lobbied for more stringent regulations. It took forty years of Congress sabotaging every attempt at changing the laws, but finally a bipartisan bill was presented this spring and easily passed.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was “given regulatory powers,” but oppressive barriers were erected that left the Agency impotent to enact regulatory actions. The Lautenberg Amendment gives the EPA the power it needs to regulate the chemical industry, an industry that is crucial to the American economy, but can produce public health tragedies without supervision.
Major industry players have also argued that proper regulation will actually be good for business, because safe products will be proven safe.
Additionally, in the 1970s, the concept of risk-assessment was only just being developed. Over the intervening decades, risk-assessment methods have been developed and studied. The Lautenberg Amendment requires risk-assessments to be carried out in a way that allows the EPA to label every chemical on the market with a hazard level.
A particularly groundbreaking measure is a new requirement for risk-assessments to be carried out on chemicals that certain groups will receive abnormally prolonged exposure to. For example, chemicals used by firefighters might be safe in household uses where exposure is infrequent and at low concentrations, but could pose a hazard to firefighters who experience high exposure. There must also be special risk-assessments regarding pregnant women, children, and other vulnerable groups.
“This legislation is a win for families and I am thrilled to see it finally approved. This modernization of TSCA raises the standard for all companies and can help provide the public with confidence that the products they use in their homes are safe for their intended uses. The strong bipartisan support of this legislation also sends a very positive message. I especially want to thank the Senators and House members who led this effort, and the Wisconsin members of Congress who supported the legislation.”
The Lautenberg Amendment testifies to the kind of real change that can be enacted when our Congresspeople work together for the betterment of the American people.
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Marisa completed her undergraduate degree in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin with a double major in creative writing and media studies. She is an advocate of progressive policies and focuses her interests on gender equality and preventing sexual and domestic violence.