Sweeping overhaul of nation’s chemical-safety laws clears final legislative hurdle

Juliet Eilperin, THE WASHINGTON POST
The Senate passed legislation Tuesday evening that will overhaul the way the federal government regulates every chemical sold on the market in the United States. The bipartisan accord represents the most sweeping environmental measure to pass Congress in a quarter-century.
The bill, which drew support from the chemical industry, trial lawyers and many public health and environmental groups, updates a 40-year-old law long criticized as ineffective.
In reauthorizing the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act on a voice vote, lawmakers are providing chemical manufacturers with greater certainty while giving the Environmental Protection Agency the ability to obtain more information about a chemical before approving its use. And because the laws involved regulate thousands of chemicals used in products including furniture, sippy cups and detergents, the measure will affect Americans’ everyday lives in ways large and small.
In an interview before the vote, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said many Americans were largely unaware of the risks posed by toxic chemicals, whether they are flame retardants in rugs and drapes or materials in clothing.
“When people learn their little baby is crawling on the floor with their nose an inch from the rug, and they are inhaling toxic-laden dust right from birth, they’re shocked,” he said. “We finally found a way to bring people together to change that.”
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who co-authored the bill with Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), said the measure could spur economic innovation because more functional oversight would encourage chemical manufacturers to bring new products to market.
“I’m so very glad to have passed a law that strengthens our country’s international competitiveness, provides desperately needed regulatory certainty for industry and mandates that the federal government use better science and provide more transparency,” he said in a statement.
Currently, the EPA must prove that a chemical poses a potential risk before it can demand data or require testing, and that substance can automatically enter the marketplace after 90 days. As a result, the agency has required testing for 200 out of thousands of chemicals that have entered the market, and it has issued regulations to control only five of them.
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