Recently, Green Seal’s standards development team attended a conference on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which celebrated its 1-year anniversary. We greatly enjoyed the candid conversations between the heavy hitters: government officials, members of Congress, representatives from industry, and environmental advocates.
The bill was signed into law on June 22, 2016 by President Obama, and was widely proclaimed a success. Soon after the signing, the usual political chatter began: cheers (a rare show of bipartisanship!), grumbles (the law was decades overdue), jitters (could the EPA handle the ambitious time lines?), shrugs and yawns (too many compromises). We, in Green Seal’s Washington, DC’s headquarters, sometimes enjoy the political opera, especially since we remain happily seated in the mezzanine. I, and my friends in the DC environmental community, were heartened by the news: the EPA now had greater authority, strict time lines for progress, and dependable funding sources for implementing effective chemical regulation.
Chemical Safety, The Previous Version
The law is an update and expansion of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) (“Ta-Ska”), which defined the federal regulation of chemicals. Unlike the other major environmental legislation of the 1960s and 70s (The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, CERCLA, RCRA, etc.) which responded to pollution and hazardous chemical releases after the fact, TSCA was intended to prevent hazardous chemicals from entering the market. The EPA was authorized and required to track chemicals that were being manufactured or processed, to evaluate new chemicals for health and environmental impacts, and to regulate (restrict, ban or in some way control) those chemicals that were identified as hazardous. TSCA implementation was slow and often ineffective because of legal loopholes, an overworked and underfunded agency, and general disinterest among members of Congress. Pushed to fill what they saw as a public health protections gap, state health departments and legislative bodies established state-wide chemical regulation programs, which sometimes caused confusion and frustration for product companies and chemical suppliers. With a goal of simplifying and re-nationalizing US chemical regulation, TSCA reform became a priority for businesses and chemical manufacturers. From 2009 to 2016, members of Congress, environmental advocates, and industry groups worked on the reform bill, and ultimately passed the Lautenberg Act in the House of Representatives with a vote of 403 to 12, and passed the Act in the Senate with a voice vote.
About the Lautenberg Act (TSCA Amendment)
- The EPA no longer needs to identify a regulatory action that is “least burdensome” to industry when carrying out a chemical ban, restriction, or exposure reduction measure.
- The EPA is no longer required to conduct a cost-benefit analysis along with its chemical assessments, and is, in fact, prohibited from factoring in the financial impacts of a regulatory action.
- The Act requires the EPA to protect vulnerable populations: “”the health of children, pregnant women, the elderly, workers, consumers, the general public, and the environmental from the risk of harmful exposures to chemical substances and mixtures.” One year in, the EPA has made real progress.
- June 22, 2017: The EPA issued Final TSCA Framework Rules (National Law Review)
- Announced the scopes of the risk evaluations for the first ten chemicals (EPA)
- Dozens of new chemical determinations were completed in June 2017 and nearly 1,000 new chemical determinations were completed from June 2016 to June 2017 (EPA – Actively updating the number of completed determinations).
Green Seal’s Chemical Considerations
The ongoing implementation of the Lautenberg Act has had no direct effect on Green Seal, our standard development, or our product evaluation processes. In their chemical assessment process, the EPA is identifying and regulating the most harmful chemicals; Green Seal is defining and validating the qualities of environmental leadership products – that they are formulated with safer chemicals, perform effectively, and have an overall lower environmental and health impact. However, TSCA Reform may eventually lead to a change in Green Seal’s standards. If the floor for chemical safety rises in the US market, we may see a significant shift in the formulations of all products, and further improvements to leadership products. If this shift takes place, Green Seal will update our standards in order to accurately reflect the new levels of leadership.
A Different Level of Scrutiny: While the EPA conducts risk analyses, Green Seal emphasizes chemical hazards. One of our major goals of product certification is to encourage the elimination of hazardous chemicals on the US market.
Identifying New Chemicals of Concern: In our product reviews, Green Seal ensures that products are not formulated with persistent / bioaccumulative / toxic substances (“PBTs”) and one way that we accomplish this is by noting the chemicals of concern that are listed in the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory. As the EPA gathers and reports the results of toxicological evaluations, new PBTs may be identified, which would better inform our evaluation.
A Clearer Evaluation Process for Companies: Companies with Green Seal-certified products will benefit from a clear and consistent framework for the evaluation of chemical substance and the associated risks, and from the new data that will result from the evaluation process. (Looking through rose-colored beakers…) Perhaps TSCA Reform will also spur green chemistry innovations, increasing the numbers of safer substitutes, and simplifying the process of developing safer formulations.
To learn more about TSCA Reform, the Lautenberg Act, and EPA’s progress since June 2016, check out the following links:
- TSCA Reform: One Year Later https://www.eli.org/events/tsca-reform-one-year-later
- Pace and Outcomes of EPA new chemical reviews appear to be on track http://blogs.edf.org/health/2017/06/06/pace-and-outcomes-of-epa-new-chemical-reviews-appear-to-be-on-track/
- How EPA Evaluates the Safety of Existing Chemicals https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/how-epa-evaluates-safety-existing-chemicals
- For Manufacturers, Passage of TSCA Reform Legislation Increases Transparency, Certainty and Safety http://www.nam.org/Newsroom/Press-Releases/2016/06/For-Manufacturers–Passage-of-TSCA-Reform-Legislation-Increases-Transparency–Certainty-and-Safety/