Landmark Chemical Safety Reform Will Finally Protect our Kids from Dangerous Chemicals
For nearly four decades, the United States’ chemical safety law had been broken, leaving families in New Mexico and around the country at risk. That’s why I wrote a bill to reform our nation's chemical safety program and finally help protect our children and communities from dangerous chemicals. The president signed Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act into law on June 22, 2016, marking a major step forward in protecting the health of all Americans.
Most Americans believe that if they can buy a product at the grocery store or the hardware store, the government has tested it and determined that it's safe. But up until my chemical safety reform bill was signed into law, that hadn’t been the case.
The chemical safety law that was in place for nearly 40 years, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), allowed chemicals to be used in consumer products without any evidence of safety. And, even worse because of a court case in 1991, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had lost its power to regulate or remove hazardous chemicals from the marketplace — not even asbestos, arsenic, styrene, formaldehyde, BPA or other dangerous substances.
We're exposed to hundreds of chemicals in our daily lives. Nearly 1,000 chemicals go on the market each year. But only a handful had ever been reviewed for safety — out of the more than 85,000 in commerce. As a result, we didn’t know the full impact of these chemicals on our health. Some chemicals found in common household items are toxic: flame retardants in your sofa, formaldehyde in pressed-wood floors and non-iron shirts, BPA in your credit card receipts are just a few. Some have been linked to cancer, birth defects and other conditions and diseases.
Some states had tried to fill in the gaps. But most states — like New Mexico — couldn’t afford to do any testing. And they had no state office to regulate chemical safety. These chemicals are in products produced all over the country — and the world — and sold in stores in every community. We needed a nationwide solution to protect families, young children and pregnant women from dangerous chemicals.
The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act
In 2011 and 2013, I cosponsored chemical safety legislation backed entirely by Democrats. We tried very hard to pass these bills, but even in a Democratic-controlled Senate, Democratic support alone was not enough to pass the bill into law. As a result, I worked for several years to craft a bill with both Democrats and Republicans to reform our nation's broken chemical safety law. A final agreement on the bill passed the House in May by a vote of 403-12, and on June 7, the Senate approved it by a voice vote. The new law:
- Requires safety reviews for all chemicals in active commerce — literally thousands of chemicals will need review;
- Requires the EPA to review and approve the about 1,000 new chemicals that come on the market each year;
- Ensures the EPA takes into consideration only the impact on health and the environment when determining whether to allow a chemical to be sold or manufactured;
- Requires chemical companies to contribute to the cost of regulations -- $25 million a year;
- Prevents industry from hiding information on their chemicals from the public view;
- Preserves strong private rights of action to hold industry accountable for negligence and harm;
- And explicitly requires that the EPA base its decisions on how chemicals impact the most vulnerable among us — children, pregnant women, the elderly, and chemical workers.
The law is named for the late New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who dedicated his career to public health causes including this one. It's called the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. Senator Lautenberg used to say that TSCA reform would save more lives than anything he’d ever worked on. And I am proud that we were able to see his work through to completion.
READ THE BILL: S. 697 – now H.R. 2576 – as passed by the Senate
COMMITTEE REPORT: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Report on S. 697
EDITORIAL: New York Times - "Despite Clear Dangers, DuPont Kept Using a Toxic Chemical" (1/12/2016)
EDITORIAL: Washington Post - "Time for oversight of dangerous chemicals" (7/19/2015)
EDITORIAL: Bloomberg - "Is Your Sofa Toxic? Ask the EPA" (6/19/2015)
VIDEO: In Speech, Udall Hails Senate Passage of Historic Chemical Safety Law (12/18/2015)
VIDEO: Senators Announce Major Progress on Chemical Safety Reform (5/7/2015)
AUDIO: Udall Discusses Chemical Safety Bill on KSFR News (4/23/2015)
AUDIO: Udall Discusses Chemical Safety Bill on 101.5 The Voice with Richard Eeds (4/23/2015)