Thursday, August 11, 2011

States Pick Up the Slack - Pass Chemical Laws While Federal TSCA Reform Goes Nowhere

According to an article in the online publication, Sustainable Business News, nine states "passed legislation to protect the public from toxic chemicals this year."  Overall, "18 states have passed over 80 chemical safety laws in the last nine years by an overwhelming margin with broad bipartisan support."  And this state-level dominance of chemical safety laws is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, primarily because the federal government has failed to take action to modernize the 35-year old Toxic Substances Control Act.

It's not from wont of trying.  Senator Lautenberg again introduced a version of his Safe Chemicals Act in 2011, and is holding a series of stakeholder meetings to try to fine-tune the proposal with stakeholder support from industry, NGOs, and academia.  This follows on several other attempts by Democrats in both the House and Senate to update TSCA, so far to no avail despite the public claims by industry to want modernization of the law.

The biggest reason why industry says they would like TSCA reformed is because they don't want to have to deal with the patchwork of state and local laws that are sometimes conflicting and always more susceptible to more local concerns.  But despite the attempts by legislators to address stakeholder input, industry has to date found the bills "unworkable" and "non-starters."  So while nothing happens at the federal level, the states jump in to protect their citizens.

According to the article:
On the state level, there's been bipartisan support for  protecting children's health and the environment from dangerous chemicals. 99% of Democrats and 86% of Republicans supported the policies listed below. 

Actions in various states have included banning BPA in thermal receipt paper, baby bottles, sippy cups, plastic storage and beverage containers, and other products, as well as restrictions and bans on heavy metals like cadmium in children's jewelry and brominated flame retardants in children's products.  Other states have initiated broader programs to identify "priority chemicals of high concern," reduce the use of toxic chemicals, or pass laws to ensure "Kids Safe Products."  A list of actions can be found in the Sustainable Business news article.

More information on state-level action to protect human health and the environment can be found here.

Whether all this state activity will stimulate federal action or not remains to be seen.  As Congress focuses on cutting programs, many of which are health and safety related actions such as those at EPA (which expects to get substantial funding cuts), the states are forced to spend even more money doing what many of them feel is a federal role.  On the other hand, as more and more states put pressures on industry, perhaps there will be more impetus for industry to recommend TSCA reform bills that they can support.

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