What is TSCA?

TSCA (toss-ka) stands for the Toxic Substances Control Act. Passed in 1976 under President Gerald Ford, it is our nation’s main law aimed at regulating chemicals used in everyday products. The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition is calling for an overhaul of TSCA based on the law’s inability to protect the health of the American public from exposure to harmful chemicals. By updating TSCA, Congress can create the foundation for a sound and comprehensive chemicals policy that protects public health and the environment, while restoring the luster of safety to U.S. goods in the world market.

Why TSCA is flawed

  • Americans assume that chemicals used to make products like toys and food containers sold in the U.S. are regulated and tested for safety — but they are not.
  • When passed into law, TSCA approved more than 60,000 chemicals that were in existence prior to 1976; only 200 of the original 60,000 chemicals have been tested for safety; some uses of only 5 of these toxic substances have been restricted.
  • Over 80,000 chemicals have been on the market and available for use since the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was enacted in 1976. EPA has required very few of these to be tested for their impacts on human health and the environment.
  • TSCA allows chemical manufacturers to keep the ingredients in some chemicals secret — nearly 20 percent of the 80,000 chemicals are secret, according to EPA.
  • TSCA makes it difficult for consumers and businesses to find the information they need to identify which chemicals are safe and unsafe.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to use TSCA to restrict asbestos 20 years ago and failed. It hasn’t tried since.
  • Instead of requiring chemical manufacturers to demonstrate that their products are safe before they go into use, the law says the government has to prove actual harm in order to control or replace a dangerous chemical.
  • TSCA perpetuates the chemical industry’s failure to innovate toward safer chemical and product design.

Congress is working to fix TSCA

It's clear we need to fix our broken federal chemical safety system. But what's most critical is that we make sure TSCA reform is done right. We can't afford to make the same mistakes we did in 1976.

  • In March of 2014, Rep. Shimkus introduced the Chemicals in Commerce Act, a bill that would provide rollbacks for the chemical industry rather than advancing protections for public health. The serious flaws of this bill can be seen here and underscores the need to get reform done right.
  • In May 2013, the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013. The bill showed the bipartisan nature of this issue, but is deeply flawed and as drafted would not protect public health from toxic chemicals. Read more of our critique here.
  • In April 2013, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Gillibrand introduced the "Safe Chemicals Act of 2013" (S. 696) with 28 co-sponsors. The Lautenberg-Gillibrand bill sought to require that chemical manufacturers demonstrate the safety of industrial chemicals used in everyday household products.
  • In July 2012, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee "marked up" the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. This was the first congressional vote on updating TSCA in 35 years.
  • Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson stated on several occasions that updating TSCA is a priority for the Obama Administration, and unveiled principles for reform that closely mirror the recommendations of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition.
  • Growing market demand for safer chemicals and an increasing number of state laws to restrict toxic chemicals continue to drive the need for federal TSCA reform.
  • The chemical industry now acknowledges the need for federal reform of chemical policy to restore public confidence in the safety of their products and to create a more predictable business environment.

The 113th Congress has signaled their commitment to chemical policy reform, and senators on both sides of the aisle in the Senate EPW committee are working to strengthen the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer has pledged to hold a hearing on chemical policy reform this summer. Legislative action in the 113th Congress will shine a light on whether or not the chemical industry is sincerely working to support federal reform.