Who Regulates Chemicals in the US? Well, usually no one
The question of who regulates substances in the US is a controversial one. Why? Well, because chemicals are primarily unregulated or held to various outdated standards.
There are problems with chemical safety due to a history of lax laws and failed congressional efforts to unify into an improved standard.
This blog post briefly summarizes who regulates what chemicals and why the government’s system is largely regarded as a failure.
Who Independently Regulates Chemicals?
Multiple independent organizations undertake the task because the US government does not have a consistent standard or department that regulates chemical substances.
Each of these organizations oversees separate chemical usage:
- 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)
Usually, testing is not required before substances are allowed in the market, with studies either being voluntary or only required when safety concerns arise, rather than before.
History of US Chemical Regulations
The first nail in the coffin for US chemical standards was the infamous Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1976. The TSCA gave authority to the EPA, which regulates all chemicals except those found in pharmaceuticals, food, and cosmetics. Rather than test the substances already on the market, the TSCA allowed the over 62,000 chemicals to go unregulated.
Several reforms were considered by Congress, including the Safer Chemicals Act (all versions denied) and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA). The Senate and House of Representatives eventually 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.
Despite these improvements, chemicals are still largely untested, with the EPA needing to have reason to believe a substance is harmful before testing it. Now required to test only 20 chemicals at a time, some experts estimate it would take centuries for the EPA to test all unregulated substances alongside the approximate 2,000 introduced each year.
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