EPA flexes TSCA muscle

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ACSH has long criticized those who have repeatedly called for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a federal law that was passed in 1976 to regulate chemicals. And though numerous attempts have been made to get Congress to amend the act over the years primarily because anti-chemical activist groups such as NRDC thought it was not stringent enough their efforts have thus far not led to any changes. Perhaps that s why the EPA is now trying to flex its regulatory muscles as the agency announced last week that it s prepared to exercise greater control over our nation s chemicals.

How does the EPA aim to accomplish this? Well, under section 6 of TSCA, the agency is provided with authority to ban or restrict a chemical if and only if it finds substantial evidence that a chemical poses an unreasonable risk. But finding proof of such risk is no easy task. Indeed, only five chemicals have fallen under the EPA's regulatory authority under TSCA since 1976. That s probably why the agency hasn t used its section 6 authority since 1991, when their decision to ban asbestos was overturned by a U.S. Court of Appeals.

Even if the EPA is able to establish a certain level of risk, however, they are required to use the least burdensome methods possible to protect against that unreasonable risk. This prompted Jim Jones, EPA s acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, to state that if the chemical is safe, our work will be done. Otherwise, the agency will consider the use of section 6, he added.

So far this year, the EPA has already initiated risk assessments on seven of the 83 chemicals it has decided to analyze, while another 18 will be studied over the next two years.

Though disappointed by the announcement, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross is not at all surprised by the EPA s latest tactics. Chemicals have been in EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson s sights since she assumed the post in 2009. Reforming TSCA is at the top of the agenda for her, as it is for most environmental activists, who believe the law hasn t been utilized efficiently, he says. Yet, if you talk to real scientists, they ll tell you that the legislation has indeed been efficiently utilized, and the reason why more chemicals haven t been banned or restricted is because they re safe. This is just another desperate attempt by the EPA to gain more power, plain and simple.

The EPA has been slapped down repeatedly over the past year because of its flawed risk assessment procedures, adds ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, and to hold them to stricter science-based standards, the agency has been subject to oversight by the National Academy of Science. While the identification of real toxicity of a particular chemical is certainly useful, it has to be done correctly, or the conclusions will be wrong, simply resulting in more false scares.