In Oregon, the Toxic Free Kids Act is working to reduce children’s exposure to chemicals and improve health standards for kids. On the federal front, Congress has strengthened the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate and manage toxic chemicals.
The new federal statute grew out of a critique of a decades old law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976.
The TCSA was administered by the Environmental Protection Agency and was passed to regulate new or existing chemicals. The TCSA requires that the EPA compile a list of chemicals, and then review and regulate those chemicals, before the chemicals could enter the consumer market. The only downside was that the new act did not separate chemicals into categories of “toxic” or “non-toxic”. Instead, if a chemical was not on the designated list, or did not have a special exempt status, companies were prohibited from manufacturing or importing the chemicals.
Critics argue that while the TCSA was a step in the right direction for managing toxic substances, the government didn’t do enough to keep the laws up to date with the changing times. As more emphasis was placed on chemical’s effects on human health and environmental welfare, more people called for stricter laws to keep toxic chemicals off the market and out of the environment.
Progress After Decades of Inaction
As the situation began to overwhelm lawmakers and chemical manufacturers, the government proposed an answer to fix the issue.
In June 2016, US Congress passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, and President Obama signed it into law. This new law gives the EPA the tools and the power they need to effectively regulate and manage chemicals and provide more health protection of families and consumers.
Now comes the hard work. After nearly 40 years without chemical oversight, the EPA is tasked with identifying and moving potentially hazardous chemicals off of store shelves. It’s a big task that will take time to kick in, but it’s progress that will be beneficial in the long run.
The next step comes with addressing hazardous, unregulated chemicals in food. The Lautenberg Act does not cover food, but as public awareness of toxic substances grows, we should see more progress on that front.