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Senate Approves Reforms to 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act

Dec 31, 2015

On December 17, 2015, the U.S. Senate voted to approve a sweeping chemical safety reform bill after months of negotiations.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, named after the late New Jersey senator, updates the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broad new powers to study and regulate harmful chemicals like asbestos, while restricting the ability of individual states to make their own rules, according to The Hill. Chemical safety reform was a top priority for Lautenberg before his death in 2013.

Senators David Vitter (of Louisiana) and Tom Udall (of New Mexico) built a coalition of senators, industry representatives and safety advocates in support of the measure. The Senate approved the measure by voice vote after Sen. Barbara Boxer dropped the hold she had placed on the legislation, The Hill reports. Boxer felt the legislation did not go far enough to protect health and the environment.

Vitter called the measure "a comprehensive, effective, thoughtful, bipartisan bill" and called its passage a "historic day." He said the bill not only honored "the legacy of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg," but also lets us "move toward the future embracing these major, necessary reforms to our nation's broken chemical safety law." Udall call the bill's passage "a great milestone." He thanked the many senators who worked to make passage possible. Udall said the bill is "the product of years of collaboration and positive input from lawmakers across the country, who understand that we need a national solution to our broken chemical safety law."

If the legislation is enacted, EPA decisions about chemicals would be made solely on the basis of health and environmental impacts, not on compliance costs. But the legislation also contains significant provisions important to the chemical industry, including restrictions on what states can do on their own. The industry said such restrictions are essential for to avoid a confusing patchwork of rules.

Health and industry groups both counted major wins in the legislation. Fred Krupp, executive director of EDF Action, lobbying arm of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said this legislation "gives us the best chance in two generations to put an end to a national scandal - a dangerously ineffective chemical safety system that was broken on arrival in 1976," according to The Hill. EDF said reforms to the chemical law were needed because, "With tens of thousands of chemicals in use today, the problem is much too big for individual consumers, product companies, retailers or states to handle on their own. We need a robust national program, rather than the current piecemeal approach that leaves many without any protections whatsoever."

Among its provisions, the bill:

  • Mandates safety reviews for all chemicals in active commerce.
  • Requires a safety finding for new chemicals before they can enter the market.
  • Explicitly requires protection of vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.
  • Gives EPA enhanced authority to require testing of both new and existing chemicals.
  • Sets aggressive, judicially enforceable deadlines for EPA decisions.
  • Makes more information about chemicals available, by limiting companies' ability to withhold information as confidential.

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