Federal legislation

What is the TSCA?

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 is a Federal law giving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate new chemicals, regulate existing chemicals (as of 1976), and regulate the use and distribution of such chemicals. The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) is responsible for implementing TSCA. More details on TSCA are available here.

How does the TSCA apply to our situation?

It doesn’t apply much. MCHM, the major component of the chemical compound leaked by Freedom Industries, is one of over 60,000 chemicals “grandfathered” into the TSCA–meaning that the EPA did not require that the company producing it (or a more impartial research entity) to conduct additional safety or environmental studies on it. In other words, MCHM was presumed safe and so no follow up analyses were mandated.

But to the extent that TSCA is the primary Federal law regulating chemical safety, it should apply–and several efforts to reform the law are underway.

What are current efforts to reform the TSCA?

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg and Louisiana Republican David Vitter and with assistance from WV Senator Joe Manchin, was introduced on May 22, 2013. The bill was assigned to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for consideration but has not progressed to the Senate as a whole.

Among other provisions, the bill would mandate the EPA to

  • review all chemicals in use,
  • determine whether they are high or low priority based on their potential health and environment risks, and
  • conduct further safety reviews on high priority chemicals.


However, a variety of observers critique the CSIA. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, for instance, reports that the bill

  • requires the EPA to establish multiple policies and procedures that could take years to develop and implement before regulation could even begin
  • does not enable the EPA to order tests of low priority chemicals,
  • fails to ensure that chemical effects on vulnerable populations are investigated,
  • falls short of adhering to medical consensus that the aggregate effects of chemicals be studied, and
  • might preempt any more stringent state laws on chemical regulation.


The Environmental Defense Fund also points out ways the bill could be improved, but notes that the bill has strong bipartisan support and improves upon its predecessors. Earlier attempts to reform the TSCA include the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 and the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010, neither of which were enacted.

The Chemicals in Commerce Act is another attempt at TSCA “reform,” although advocates for chemical safety argue that it would actually weaken toxic chemical regulation. More details on CICA are available here. WV Congressman David McKinley sits on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which is currently considering the bill. Representative McKinley can be contacted through his website. See the “Take Action” page for a sample letter and/or add your name to this petition.