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Calling on the US Congress to Restructure the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976

  • Date: Nov 06 2007
  • Policy Number: 20077

Key Words: Green Chemistry, Chemical Safety, Hazardous Waste, Toxic Substances, Health Disparities, Environmental Health, Occupational Health And Safety

The American Public Health Association (APHA) has established prior policy in the area of chemical safety for workers and the general public.1–6 The global scale of industrial chemical production is immense and is expected to grow 4-fold by 2050.7,8 The US chemical industry is a critical economic sector that designs, produces, and imports the substances that constitute the material base of society. The US chemical industry produces or imports a total of 42 billion pounds of chemical substances per day for use in industrial processes and commercial products.9

Many of these substances that are useful to society are also known to be hazardous to human biology and ecological systems. Groups of workers have nearly always been the first to suffer harm from chemical exposures, The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 (PL 94-469) should be restructured to emphasize the obligation of chemical producers and users to fund epidemiological research of exposed workers by government, labor and industry.

TSCA is the federal statute that is broadly intended to enable regulation of chemicals both before and after they enter commerce. TSCA defines chemicals as those not under jurisdiction of other federal regulatory acts, such as pesticides, cosmetics or other food additives.

Analyses conducted by the National Academy of Sciences,10 the US General Accounting Office,11 the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment,12 Environmental Defense,13 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),14 former EPA officials,15 the US Government Accountability Office,16 and the University of California17 have concluded that TSCA has fallen short of its objectives and has not served as an effective vehicle for the public, industry, or government to assess the hazards of chemicals in commerce or control those of greatest concern, and that, as a consequence, the statute has not served to motivate industry investment in cleaner technologies. These analyses point to three overarching “gaps” that have emerged in the US chemical management program as a consequence of TSCA:17

  1. “Data gap“: TSCA does not require producers to generate and disclose information on chemical hazards to the public, government, or downstream businesses and industries including currently required company reports to the EPA of incidents related to chemicals. 
  2. “Safety gap”: TSCA requires government to meet an excessively high standard of proof before acting to protect public environmental health, even for well-established chemical hazards. 
  3. “Technology gap“: the lack of both market and regulatory drivers has dampened investment, research, and education in green chemistry: the design, manufacture, and use of chemicals that are safer for biological and ecological systems.17–19 

As a consequence, chemicals are marketed in the United States primarily on the basis of their function, price, and performance, with much less attention to their toxic and ecotoxic properties. These conditions in the chemicals market are reflected in chemistry teaching and research in the United States and have produced an array of problems for workers, the public, ecosystems, government, businesses, and industry that will broaden and deepen in coming years, concomitant with expanding global chemical production. These problems include the projected need for more than 600 new hazardous waste sites each month in the United States leading up to 2033, with estimated cleanup costs of $250 billion;20,21 the appearance of hundreds of industrial chemicals in human tissues and fluids, including those of infants; the development of chronic diseases and premature death among thousands of Americans as a consequence of chemical exposures in the workplace;17 and disproportionate risks due to chemical exposures among members of minority, immigrant, and low-income communities, both as residents and workers.

Sweeping changes in public environmental health policy in the European Union are driving global interest in cleaner technologies, including green chemistry, and a growing number of downstream businesses are calling for greater transparency and accountability on the part of chemical suppliers and producers.22 In light of these changes, the United States has a unique opportunity to correct longstanding federal chemicals policy weaknesses and to implement a modern, comprehensive approach to chemicals policy that will build the foundation for new productive capacity in green chemistry.17 A modern, revised, proactive, and more comprehensive chemicals policy could position the United States to become a global leader in green chemistry innovation.

On the current trajectory, the United States could become a market for hazardous substances no longer permitted for sale in the European Union and other regions that are taking steps to implement modern chemicals policies.23 Further, hazard information submitted by chemical manufacturers is often designated as “confidential business information,” excluding the public from accessing accurate information on health effects and composition of chemicals.

Therefore, APHA calls on the US Congress to fundamentally restructure TSCA such that it— 

  1. Requires the generation, disclosure, and distribution by chemical producers of comprehensive chemical production, use, hazard, and exposure information in forms that are appropriate for use by the public, workers, industry, small businesses, and government. 
  2. Requires all chemicals now in commerce to be assessed by EPA using a hazard-based approach instead of a risk-based approach to evaluating chemicals to identify both those that pose potential or actual risks to human health and the environment and those that may serve as safer substitutes for chemicals posing risks to public environmental health.
  3. Adds a chemical phase-out plan so that persistent, bioactive toxins (PBTs) are removed from the chemicals market. 
  4. Requires EPA to use the hazard information and other data generated through the High Production Volume Chemicals Program to develop methods in collaboration with National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to evaluate the data for potential adverse human health effects such as in exposed groups of workers.
  5. Serves as a vehicle for expanding the resources of federal and state agencies to efficiently assess the hazards of chemicals in commercial use and steadily reduce the production and use of those of greatest concern to public environmental health.
  6. Introduces other mechanisms to motivate investment in the industrial and commercial application of green chemistry24 and in green chemistry research, technology development and diffusion, education, and technical assistance.
  7. Amends TSCA’s confidential business information clause to insert a 5-year sunset clause to mandate disclosure of this public health information.

APHA calls on state legislatures to address chemicals policy at the state level for similar purposes and with similar goals. 


  1. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy 2000-11. The precautionary principle and children’s health. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; 2001. Available at: www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=216. Accessed December 5, 2007.
  2. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy 2000-8. Affirming the importance of regulating pesticide exposures to protect public health. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; 2000. Available at: www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=213. Accessed December 5, 2007.
  3. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy 2000-9. Support for international action to eliminate persistent organic pollutants. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; 2000. Available at: www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=214. Accessed December 5, 2007.
  4. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy 2002-5. Preserving right-to-know information and encouraging hazard reduction to reduce the risk of exposure to toxic substances. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; 2002. Available at: www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=279. Accessed December 5, 2007.
  5. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy 2005-5. Protecting human milk from persistent toxic chemical contaminants. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; 2005. Available at: www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=1321. Accessed December 5, 2007.
  6. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy 96-06. The precautionary principle and chemical exposure standards for the workplace. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; 1996. Available at: www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=124. Accessed December 5, 2007.
  7. American Chemistry Council. Guide to the Business of Chemistry. Arlington, VA: American Chemistry Council; 2003:37.
  8. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Environmental Outlook for the Chemicals Industry. Paris: OECD Environment Directorate Environment, Health and Safety Division; 2001:4–36. Available at: www.oecd.org/dataoecd/7/45/2375538.pdf. Accessed February 8, 2006.
  9. National Pollution Prevention and Toxics Advisory Committee (NPPTAC), Broader Issues Work Group. How Can EPA More Efficiently Identify Potential Risks and Facilitate Risk Reduction Decisions for Non-HPV Existing Chemicals? 2005. Available at: www.epa.gov/oppt/npptac/pubs/finaldraftnonhpvpaper051006.pdf. Accessed December 5, 2007.
  10. National Academy of Sciences Commission on Life Sciences. Toxicology Testing: Strategies to Determine Needs and Priorities. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences Press; 1984.
  11. US General Accounting Office. Toxic Substances Control Act: Legislative Changes Could Make the Act More Effective. GAO/RCED-94-103. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 1994.
  12. Congress of the United States Office of Technology Assessment. Screening and Testing of Chemicals in Commerce: Background Paper. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 1995.
  13. Roe D, Pease W, Florini K, Silbergeld E. Toxic Ignorance: The Continuing Absence of Basic Health Testing for Top-Selling Chemicals in the United States. Washington, DC: Environmental Defense; 1997. Available at: www.environmentaldefense.org/pdf.cfm?ContentID=243&FileName=toxicignorance.pdf) (accessed February 12, 2005. Accessed December 5, 2007.
  14. US Environmental Protection Agency. Chemical Hazard Data Availability Study. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 1998.Available atwww.epa.gov/oppt/chemrtk/pubs/general/hazchem.pdf. Accessed June 15, 2005. 
  15. Goldman L. Preventing pollution? U.S. toxic chemicals and pesticides policies and sustainable development. Environmental Law Review. 2002;32:11018–11041.
  16. US Government Accountability Office. Chemical Regulation: Options Exist to Improve EPA’s Ability to Assess Health Risks and Manage Its Chemicals Review Program. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 2005.
  17. Wilson M, Chia D, Ehlers B. Green Chemistry in California: A framework for leadership in chemicals policy and innovation. Special Report to the California Legislature. Berkley, CA: University of California Policy Research Center; 2006. Available at: http://coeh.berkeley.edu/news/06_wilson_policy.htm. Accessed March 15, 2007. 
  18. Anastas P, Warner J. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press; 1998.
  19. National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology. Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs—A Workshop Report. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2005. Available at: www.nap.edu/books/0309095719/html. Accessed October 24, 2005. 
  20. US Environmental Protection Agency. Cleaning Up the Nation’s Waste Sites: Markets and Technology Trends. Washington, DC: USEPA; 2004; pp. vii–x. Available at: www.clu-in.org/download/market/2004market.pdf. Accessed May 18, 2005. 
  21. US Environmental Protection Agency. Superfund Program. New Report Projects. Number, Cost and Nature of Contaminated Site Cleanups in the U.S. over the Next 30 Years. Washington, DC: USEPA; 2004; 2004. www.epa.gov/superfund/accomp/news/30years.htm. Accessed May 18, 2005. (2004).
  22. Ambachtsheer J, Kron J, Liroff RA, Little T, Massey R. Fiduciary Guide to Toxic Chemical Risk. Oakland, CA: The Investor Environmental Health Network, The Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment; 2007. Available at: http://www.rosefdn.org/toxicrisk.pdf. Accessed December 5, 2007. 
  23. Dension R. Not That Innocent: a Comparative Analysis of Canadian, European Union, and United States Policies on Industrial Chemicals. Washington, DC: Environmental Defense; 2007. Available at: www.environmentaldefense.org/documents/6149_NotThatInnocent_Fullreport.pdf. Accessed December 5, 2007. 
  24. American Chemical Society. 12 Principles of Green Chemistry. Available at: http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=1400&content_id=CTP_006315&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1. Accessed December 6, 2007. 

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