The Two Most Important Chemical Acts in the US
The history of chemical regulation acts in the United States is incredibly messy and criticized.
A simple Google search about the US and chemicals will give you a variety of opinion pieces and outdated explanations.
To give you a general understanding, we’ve condensed a summary of the latest information about chemical regulation into this blog post.
Who Oversees Chemical Regulation?
Most of us probably assume the federal government is in charge of chemical regulation. Still, the government has a surprisingly small part in deciding what substances are safe for manufacturers to use.
Instead of regulating chemicals itself, the US government has extended the responsibility to multiple independent organizations. Each organization handles a different category of substances and creates most of its own standards, making chemical regulation a bit of a mixed bag.
Here is a list of the organizations dedicated to chemical regulation in the US:
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- National Toxicology Program (NTP)
- National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
This blog will focus on the EPA, which oversees chemical regulation for all substances except those found in pharmaceuticals, food, and cosmetics.
The EPA and Chemical Regulation Acts
Although primarily known for its environmental protections, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 gave chemical regulation authority to the EPA for consumer products. This involved many missteps and restrictions, including:
- Allowed over 62,000 chemicals already on the market to go untested
- Only tested chemicals if evidence suggests health or environmental risk
- Limited capability to legally enforce standards
In the decades following the TSCA, criticisms included calls for an update to a faulty and outdated standard. Congress introduced and denied multiple bills concerning updates to the TSCA criteria, including the Safer Chemicals Act and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA). Eventually, Congress consolidated their bills into the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act), signed into law by Former President Obama on June 22, 2016.
While the US improved standards, chemicals are still largely unregulated. Only required to test a minimum of 20 chemicals at a time, the EPA still must have reason to believe a substance is harmful before testing it. With over 80,000 untested chemicals and at least 2,000 introduced each year, experts estimate it would take centuries for the EPA to test all unregulated substances.
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