(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
I would like to thank Senator Lautenberg for calling for this legislative hearing on the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (S. 847), which would reform the primary federal law that regulates toxic chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
Senator Lautenberg, I admire your strong commitment to reforming and strengthening TSCA, which was enacted in 1976 to regulate the manufacturing and distribution of chemicals. Your bill, S. 847, would amend TSCA to require the chemical industry to prove its chemicals are safe for pregnant women, infants, children, and other vulnerable populations.
This Committee has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to overseeing federal chemicals policy. Since 2008, we have held five hearings on the adequacy of our nation’s protections against dangerous chemicals. In fact, when Senator Inhofe was chair of this Committee, he held an oversight hearing in 2006 on EPA’s implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Today’s legislative hearing shows the Committee’s continuing interest in this issue, and in particular, our commitment to resolving concerns over the adequacy of protections provided by TSCA. Some of the most at-risk individuals are infants, children, pregnant women, and others who are especially vulnerable to toxic substances, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are protected.
EPA regulates toxic chemicals under several laws, including TSCA, which was intended to enable the agency to restrict or ban toxic chemicals if they were found to be hazardous.
However, a closer look at TSCA reveals that adjustments to the law are necessary if we are to ensure that people are safe from dangerous chemicals. Improvements are needed, because the law’s effectiveness has been severely weakened over the years. In particular, a 1991 court decision that partially overturned EPA’s ban of asbestos -- a deadly substance known to cause cancer --put a heavy burden on EPA to prove that a toxic chemical presents an “unreasonable risk” before the agency can restrict the use of a chemical.
Public health and environmental groups point to other weaknesses in TSCA — for example, the law does not include specific protections for pregnant women, infants, children, and others who are far more vulnerable to many chemicals than the general population.
The time to reform our approach to regulating toxic chemicals is overdue. Europe has recently reformed its toxic chemical controls laws by creating a program, called “REACH”. This program requires companies to develop information on chemicals’ impacts, and it puts the burden to show that its chemicals are safe where it should be -- on the chemical industry.
Families and consumers in this country deserve to know that the U.S. chemical manufacturing industry is producing chemicals that are safe. By improving TSCA to make it more effective in protecting public health, the companies that produce the safest chemicals stand to benefit from increased market share, enhanced consumer confidence, and reduced potential liability costs.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on their perspective concerning the approach taken by the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011.