TSCA

Reforma de TSCA: Un hito bipartidista para proteger nuestra salud de las sustancias químicas dañinas

Por Gina McCarthy

El presidente Obama recién firmó un proyecto bipartidista para reformar la Ley de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (TSCA, por sus siglas en inglés), la primera actualización importante de un estatuto medioambiental en 20 años.  Estas son buenas nuevas para el medio ambiente y la salud de todas las personas en Estados Unidos.

La Ley TSCA primero fue aprobada en 1976 para ayudar a mantener las sustancias químicas peligrosas fuera del mercado y evitar el enfermar a la gente. En aquel entonces, los expertos en salud ya sabían que ciertas sustancias químicas podrían ocasionar serios impactos a la salud, inclusive el cáncer, defectos congénitos y daños al sistema reproductivo.

Mientras la intención de la ley TSCA original fue acertada, no cumplió con sus objetivos al no otorgar a la EPA la autoridad que necesitábamos para realizar la labor.

Se hizo patente que sin cambios importantes a la ley, la EPA no podría tomar las acciones necesarias para proteger a la gente de las sustancias químicas tóxicas. Diversas partes interesadas, incluyendo la industria, los detallistas, los expertos de salud pública y ambientalistas, reconocieron estas deficiencias y empezaron a exigir reformas sustanciales a la ley.

 

Hoy, en una culminación de años de esfuerzos de ambas partidos, el presidente Obama firmó un proyecto que logra estas reformas.

La ley actualizada le otorga a la EPA las autoridades que nosotros necesitamos para proteger a las familias en Estados Unidos de los efectos a la salud de las sustancias químicas peligrosas. Doy la bienvenida a esta legislación bipartidista como un paso importante a favor de la protección de la salud de los estadounidenses. Y en la EPA, estamos excitados de poder trabajar a favor de su implementación.

La Ley Frank R. Lautenberg de Seguridad Química para el Siglo XXI (H.R. 2576) se convirtió en realidad tras años de ardua labor por parte tanto de demócratas y republicanos en la Cámara de Representantes y el Senado de EE.UU., así como del personal de la EPA que proveyó asistencia técnica significativa. Aplaudo a todos por su empeño y por lograr que esto sucediera. Es histórico, y mejorará las vidas de las personas en Estados Unidos.

Estaba previsto que la TSCA fuera una de las leyes medioambientales fundamentales de nuestra nación. En términos de su potencial para un impacto positivo, debería de estar catalogada a la par de la Ley de Agua Limpia y la Ley de Aire Limpio, que desde los años 70, han dramáticamente mejorado la calidad del agua y ayudado a limpiar hasta el 70 por ciento de la contaminación del aire de nuestra nación. Pero no ha sido así.

Cuarenta años después de que la TSCA entrara en vigor, todavía hay decenas de miles de sustancias químicas en el mercado que nunca han sido evaluadas para su seguridad, debido a que la TSCA no lo requería. Y la legislación original estableció requisitos analíticos que eran casi imposibles de cumplir, atando las manos de la EPA—aun cuando la ciencia demandaba acción sobre ciertas sustancias químicas.

Los daños de la inacción nunca han sido más evidentes que en el caso del asbesto, una sustancia química conocida por ocasionar el cáncer tras décadas de investigaciones.

Durante la primera administración Bush, la EPA trató de prohibir el asbesto bajo la TSCA, pero la norma fue derogada en los tribunales. En los 40 años de historia de la ley, solo un número ínfimo de las decenas de miles de sustancias químicas en el mercado cuando la ley fue aprobada han sido revisadas para sus impactos a la salud y solo 5 han sido prohibidas.

Debido a que la EPA no tenía la potestad para actuar sobre las sustancias químicas peligrosas, las familias estadounidenses han permanecido vulnerables a los impactos serios a la salud. A la misma vez, algunos estados han tratado de cerrar la brecha para proteger la salud de sus ciudadanos, pero las normas de estado por estado no son un sustituto para un programa nacional fuerte que proteja a todos en Estados Unidos. Los fabricantes químicos, los minoristas de productos para el consumidor, y otros en la industria concuerdan: la reforma era imprescindible.

He aquí algunos puntos sobresalientes:

  • La nueva ley requiere a la EPA evaluar las sustancias químicas existente con metas claras y ejecutables. Bajo la antigua ley, decenas de las miles de sustancias químicas ya en existencia en el 1976 estaban consideradas en cumplimiento, sin ningún requisito ni un itinerario para la EPA revisar su seguridad. La EPA ahora tiene el requisito de priorizar y evaluar sistemáticamente las sustancias químicas conforme a un itinerario específico y ejecutable. Dentro de pocos años, el programa de sustancias químicas de la EPA tendrá que evaluar al menos 20 sustancias químicas a la vez y comenzar otra revisión de sustancias químicas tan pronto que se haya completado una.

 

  • Bajo la nueva ley, la EPA evaluará sustancias químicas puramente en base a los riesgos que representan para la salud. La antigua ley era tan onerosa que prevenía a la EPA de tomar acción para proteger la salud pública y el medio ambiente—aun cuando una sustancia química representaba una amenaza conocida a la salud. Ahora, la EPA evaluará la seguridad de una sustancia química basándose puramente en los riesgos a la salud que esta representa—incluyendo aquellos para los grupos vulnerables como niños y ancianos, y los trabajadores que usan las sustancias químicas diariamente como parte de sus trabajos—y entonces tomar los pasos para eliminar cualquiera de los riesgos irrazonables que encontremos.

 

  • La nueva ley provee una fuente consistente de fondos a la EPA para desempeñar estas nuevas responsabilidades. La EPA ahora podrá cobrar hasta $25 millones al año en tarifas de usuarios a los manufactureros y procesadores de sustancias químicas, suplementados por el presupuesto congresional para pagar estas mejoras.

 

En fin de cuentas: la ley es una enorme victoria para la salud pública, y la EPA está deseosa de comenzar el trabajo.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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TSCA Reform: A Bipartisan Milestone to Protect Our Health from Dangerous Chemicals


By Gina McCarthy

President Obama just signed a bipartisan bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the first major update to an environmental statute in 20 years. That’s great news for the environment and for the health of all Americans.

TSCA was first passed in 1976 to help keep dangerous chemicals off the market and avoid making people sick. Back then, health experts already knew that certain chemicals could cause very serious health impacts, including cancer, birth defects, and reproductive harm.

While the intent of the original TSCA law was spot-on, it fell far short of giving EPA the authority we needed to get the job done.

It became clear that without major changes to the law, EPA couldn’t take the actions necessary to protect people from toxic chemicals. Diverse stakeholders, including industry, retailers, and public health and environmental experts, recognized these deficiencies and began to demand major reforms to the law.

Today, in a culmination of years of effort from both sides of the aisle, President Obama signed a bill that achieves those reforms.

The updated law gives EPA the authorities we need to protect American families from the health effects of dangerous chemicals. I welcome this bipartisan bill as a major step forward to protect Americans’ health. And at EPA, we’re excited to get to work putting it into action.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2576) was made possible by years of hard work by both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate, as well as EPA staff who have provided significant technical assistance. I applaud everyone who stepped up and made it happen. It’s historic, and it’ll make Americans’ lives better.

TSCA was intended to be one of our nation’s foundational environmental laws. In terms of its potential for positive impact, it should have ranked right alongside the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which, since the 70’s, have dramatically improved water quality and helped clean up 70 percent of our nation’s air pollution. But it hasn’t.

Forty years after TSCA was enacted, there are still tens of thousands of chemicals on the market that have never been evaluated for safety, because TSCA didn’t require it. And the original law set analytical requirements that were nearly impossible to meet, leaving EPA’s hands tied – even when the science demanded action on certain chemicals.

The dangers of inaction were never more stark than in the case of asbestos, a chemical known to cause cancer through decades of research.

During the first Bush Administration, EPA tried to ban asbestos under TSCA, but the rule was overturned in court. In the law’s 40-year history, only a handful of the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market when the law passed have ever been reviewed for health impacts, and only 5 have ever been banned.

Because EPA was not empowered to act on dangerous chemicals, American families were left vulnerable to serious health impacts. At the same time, some states tried to fill the gap to protect their citizens’ health—but state-by-state rules are no substitute for a strong national program that protects all Americans. Chemical manufacturers, consumer retailers, and others in industry agreed: reform was sorely needed.

As with any major policy reform, this one includes compromises. But the new bipartisan bill is a win for the American people—because it’s a victory for EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment.

Here are a few highlights:

  • The new law requires EPA to evaluate existing chemicals, with clear and enforceable deadlines. Under the old law, the tens of thousands of chemicals already in existence in 1976 were considered in compliance, without any requirement or schedule for EPA to review them for safety. EPA is now required to systematically prioritize and evaluate chemicals on a specific and enforceable schedule. Within a few years, EPA’s chemicals program will have to assess at least 20 chemicals at a time, beginning another chemical review as soon as one is completed.
  • Under the new law, EPA will evaluate chemicals purely on the basis of the health risks they pose. The old law was so burdensome that it prevented EPA from taking action to protect public health and the environment–even when a chemical posed a known health threat. Now, EPA will have evaluate a chemical’s safety purely based on the health risks it poses—including to vulnerable groups like children and the elderly, and to workers who use chemicals daily as part of their jobs—and then take steps to eliminate any unreasonable risks we find.
  • The new law provides a consistent source of funding for EPA to carry out its new responsibilities. EPA will now be able to collect up to $25 million a year in user fees from chemical manufacturers and processers, supplemented by Congressional budgeting, to pay for these improvements.

Bottom line: this law is a huge win for public health, and EPA is eager to get to work.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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EPA Takes Important Step in Assessing Chemical Risk

Earlier today, EPA made public a final risk assessment on a number of uses of the chemical, Trichloroethylene, or TCE, as it is more commonly known. The risk assessment indicated health risks from TCE to consumers using spray aerosol degreasers and spray fixatives used for artwork. It can pose harm to workers when TCE is used as a degreaser in small commercial shops and as a stain remover in dry cleaners. It has been more than 28 years since we last issued a final risk assessment for an existing chemical.

EPA conducted the TCE risk assessment as part of a broader effort to begin assessing chemicals and chemical uses that may pose a concern to human health and the environment under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA is this country’s 38-year old chemicals management legislation, which is badly in need of modernization

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Chemical Spill in West Virginia Offers Opportunity to Learn About and Improve Chemical Safety in America

By Maya Nye

On the early morning of January 9, a citizen complaining of a strong “black licorice” smell alerted officials to a chemical leak at the Freedom Industries site that seeped into West Virginia’s Elk River a mile and a half upstream of the state’s largest water intake.  It wasn’t until hours later that a ban was placed on water use for over 300,000 people across nine West Virginia counties.  Schools shut down. Hospitals cancelled non-essential surgeries.  Restaurants were forced to close leaving many people out of work.  The local economy nearly ground to a halt.

Untitled-1The chemical that leaked from the Freedom Industries site, crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, is used in the processing of coal-fired energy production.  It is one of 62,000 chemicals that were grandfathered in under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), many of which can pose serious consequences for human health.

This is not a new issue in West Virginia: chemical contamination has been a concern in this area for a long time.  This 25-mile stretch of West Virginia’s Untitled-2Kanawha River has been nicknamed “chemical valley” for its chemical manufacturing industry.  In fact, many incidents in this valley over the years have served as the focal point for reform to national chemical safety and security policy, including a 1985 aldicarb oxime leak that led to national Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Laws and the implementation of the United States Chemical Safety Board.  In the wake of this latest spill, the communities around the Elk River in West Virginia also have an opportunity to spur action on chemical safety.

In response to the incident, the West Virginia State Legislature unanimously passed a bill requiring greater regulation of aboveground storage tanks in zones surrounding drinking water intakes, as well as requiring updated source water protection plans.  This is a good start towards improving the safety and security of drinking water supplies.

However, this incident could provide the basis for further action at the national level. That’s why in February, I travelled with my colleague Stephanie Tyree with the West Virginia Community Development Hub to Denver to join our Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform partners at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) Conference to seek national support for our home state of West Virginia.  As a result of our testimonies, the NEJAC responded to our request and agreed to advocate on our behalf for a listening session of the President’s Executive Order 13650 to be held in Charleston, West Virginia.

Untitled-3The public has a right to know what dangers exist in their communities in order to make informed decisions about their individual health and the health of their families. It is now mid-April, more than 90 days since the spill, and the crisis is still not over.  The odor is still faintly detected in some homes.  Schools have recently gone back to serving tap water to the dismay of many parents, and most people are not bathing in or drinking the water for fear of unknown health risks. We hope that the West Virginia incident will better inform chemical safety and security laws across the country and ensure that they protect families and workers in all communities.

Maya Nye is the President of People Concerned About Chemical Safety (PCACS), a 501c4 non-profit community organization active in community affairs for over 30 years dedicated to promoting international human rights pertaining to chemical safety through education and advocacy.  

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Closing the Carpet Loop(hole)

My children are teenagers now, but it seems like yesterday they were toddlers crawling around on the carpet.   It makes you wonder about children’s exposure to  the chemicals that make up the synthetic materials in carpets.  While most of these chemicals pose no risk to human health or the environment (due to their properties and how they are used in the making of consumer products), some do.

Some chemicals used in carpets to resist soil and stains have been found to persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in humans and animals— posing potential long-term health risks. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Working to Protect Americans from Toxic Chemicals and Spurring Innovation in the Business Community

Our approach to chemical safety in this country is in dire need of reform. EPA’s tools under our current chemicals management law (the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA) are outdated, time-consuming and have left thousands of chemicals, some of which we encounter in our daily lives, not properly evaluated for health impacts.  While we work for reform of this outdated law, EPA’s goal is to provide chemical information in new ways and create useful tools so American business, environmental groups and the American people can make informed choices and use safer chemicals.

Today we launched ChemView, a web-based tool to help companies make safer chemical choices. I know that businesses and consumers need to make chemical decisions, whether they are product manufacturers choosing between chemicals for a new consumer product, retailers selecting products to carry on their shelves, or consumers choosing which product to purchase in the grocery store.  ChemView will facilitate safer decision-making and provide businesses with the information they need to make safer choices for consumer and commercial products.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Making Sure Chemicals Around Us are Safe

By Jim Jones, Acting Assistant Administrator, OCSPP

Chemicals are found in most everything we use and consume— from plastics, to medicine, to cleaning products, and flame retardants in our furniture and clothing. They can be essential for our health, our well being, our prosperity and our safety— it’s no understatement to say that the quality of life we enjoy today would be impossible without chemicals. However, our understanding of chemical safety is constantly evolving and there remain significant gaps in our scientific knowledge regarding many chemicals and their potentially negative impacts on our health, and the environment.

While you may be familiar with the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts— you may not be as familiar with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the environmental statute enacted in 1976 to regulate all chemicals manufactured and used in the U.S. When TSCA was enacted, it grandfathered in, without any evaluation, the 62,000 chemicals in commerce that existed in 1976.

Unlike the laws for drugs and pesticides, TSCA does not have a mandatory program where the EPA must conduct a review to determine the safety of existing chemicals. TSCA is the only major environmental law that has not been modernized. The process of requiring testing through rulemaking chemical-by-chemical has proven burdensome and time consuming.

Compared to 30 years ago, we have a better understanding of how we are exposed to chemicals and the distressing health effects some chemicals can have – especially on children. At the same time, significant gaps exist in our scientific knowledge of many chemicals, including those like flame retardants. Increasingly, studies are highlighting the health risks posed by certain chemicals and recent media coverage has heightened public awareness about the safety of flame retardants.

As part of EPA’s efforts to assess chemical risks, we will begin evaluating 20 flame retardants in 2013 in order to improve our understanding of the potential risks of this class of chemicals, taking action if warranted, and identifying safer substitutes when possible. Over the years, EPA has also taken a number of regulatory and voluntary efforts, including negotiating the voluntary phase-outs of several toxic flame retardants. EPA’s review of and action on flame retardants has spanned over two decades and while these are important steps forward, the long history of EPA’s action on flame retardants is tied in no small part to the shortcomings of TSCA and stands as a clear illustration of the need for TSCA reform.

We have the right to expect that the chemicals found in products that we use every day are safe and provide benefits without hidden harm. It is critical that we close the knowledge gaps and provide this assurance under a reformed, 21st century version of TSCA.

About the author: Jim Jones is the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He is responsible for managing the office which implements the nation’s pesticide, toxic chemical, and pollution prevention laws. The office has an annual budget of approximately $260 million and more than 1,300 employees. Jim’s career with EPA spans more than 24 years. From April through November 2011, Jim served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. He has an M.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of Maryland, both in Economics.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Just One Word….Plastics

I still remember the brief exchange in the 1967 movie “The Graduate.” The actor Walter Brooke insisted on giving the young Dustin Hoffman one piece of advice: “Plastics….There’s a great future in plastics….” I guess this just shows my age. However, I still recall the time when most of the containers for household detergents and common hygiene products were made of glass instead of the more commonly used plastics that we see nowadays. During the past decades, advances in the petrochemical industry have led to positive uses for plastics in the fields of medicine, construction, automotive, packaging, and many others. The innovative usage of plastics has fundamentally changed our world. Unfortunately, its proliferation has had unintended consequences.

Today, plastics are a constant in our lives. From beverage containers, household items to packaging, plastics are everywhere. Ultimately, many of these items are discarded on a daily basis and they end up as trash in our landfills or oceans. For example, in the year 2007, almost 12.1 percent of the total municipal solid waste in the United States came from 31 million tons of plastics. Since plastics do not easily break down into simpler components, they become virtually everlasting in the environment. Increasing awareness of the situation is just the first step in addressing the problem. Recycling deals with just one area. Technological advances are only part of the solution.

That brings me to another aspect of the preponderance of plastics: their toll on the environment. The adverse effects of plastics are not solely related to the tonnage of plastic debris produced yearly. Moreover, the negative impacts on human health and the environment stem from some of the chemicals added to plastics during the manufacturing process.  Recently, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson outlined the Obama Administration’s principles for reforming the legislation commonly known as TSCA, the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act.  In a recent speech at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, Administrator Lisa P. Jackson spoke of the need to fix the weaknesses in TSCA with a new chemical risk management law. The planets seem to be aligning in the right direction. Important players in government, the private sector, health and environmental organizations all seem to agree that the time for reform is now.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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