Companies introduce about 700 chemicals into the marketplace each year. (Tweet this) And 40 years after the TSCA became law, the EPA’s chemical inventory lists 85,000 substances. But nobody knows exactly how many of these chemicals are still in use.
The EPA has identified 90 chemicals that merit further investigation, and possibly regulation. But only about 2% of the chemicals in use today have undergone a safety review by government scientists, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, a watchdog group in New York City.
Critics of the TSCA have long complained that the law effectively ties the EPA’s hands, preventing the agency from examining the safety of known chemicals and making it difficult to ensure that new ones do not pose undue health hazards.
It requires companies to register new chemicals before they are used in products and industrial processes, but the default assumption is that all chemicals are safe. Unless the EPA can show that a given chemical poses an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment, that chemical is automatically approved for use. Companies do not have to provide the agency with much information about their chemicals, and the EPA cannot require industry to conduct additional research without solid evidence that a chemical poses a health risk.
So, what will change?
In short, everything. Once the TSCA is amended, the EPA will have the authority to ask questions, seek more information and even require companies to conduct additional studies to ensure that chemicals are safe.
The US law requires less information about chemicals up front than Europe’s pioneering chemical-safety legislation, but the two regulatory approaches should have similar results, says Richard Denison, a biochemist who tracks chemical safety for the Environmental Defense Fund.