Obama overhauls toxic chemical rules after 40 years

23 Jun 2016 | By Mansi Motwani
The 21st Century Lautenberg Act

On 22nd June, 2016, President Obama signed the 1st overhaul of toxic chemicals in 40 years.

In a rare moment, republican and democrat lawmakers cooperatively joined the President for the ceremony.

Environmental advocates and industry groups backing the legislation were present as well.

The bill's namesake is former New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died in 2013 after investing years in fixing the law.

In context: The 21st Century Lautenberg Act

Chemical Regulations

According to the American Chemistry Council, the Lautenberg bill replaces the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, aiming to "bring chemical regulation in the 21st Century".

Previous LegislationThe Toxic Substances Control Act

The Toxic Substances Control Act was passed by the United States Congress in 1976.

Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, it regulated the introduction of new/already existing chemicals.

It's main objectives included assessing new chemicals before they entered the market and regulating chemicals that were already existing in 1976.

When TCSA was introduced, existing chemicals at the time were deemed safe to use.

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Hesitations with the Toxic Substances Control Act

CriticismsHesitations with the Toxic Substances Control Act

According to Wilson and Schwarzman, there exit 3 gaps in the TSCA.

Data gap which dissuades producers to disclose information of hazardous chemicals to individuals/entities using those chemicals.

Safety gap wherein the government falls short of legal tools to identify, prioritise and take action against the ill-effects of hazardous chemicals.

Industry and government investing only marginally in green chemistry research, creating a technology gap.

07 Jun 2016Congress Passes Regulation of Toxic Chemicals Bill

The 7th June U.S. Senate vote marked Congress' first overhaul of a nation-wide pollution control statute.

The new law will modernize the ambiguous Toxic Substances Control Act.

It will compel the Environmental Protection Agency to examine the safety of chemicals in commerce.

Further, it will authorise the EPA to demand testing of products by chemical manufacturers for possible risks to human health and environment.

23 Jun 2016Obama overhauls toxic chemical rules after 40 years

GoalsWhat the Lautenberg Act will do

The Congress spent more than 3 years working on this bill, which will update rules for tens of thousands of everyday chemicals, found in household cleaners, clothing, furniture etc.

It sets safety standards for dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde, asbestos and syrene.

The main objective of the bill is to bring about a national standardization amongst a jumble of state rules governing the $800-billion-per-year industry.

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Detoxication of Politics

Putting down his pen to sign the bill, Barack Obama said, "If we can get this bill done, it means somewhere out there on the horizon, we can make our politics less toxic as well".


While TSCA authorises the EPA to restrict or ban chemicals posing risks to human health or environment on paper, the EPA falls into a dilemma by having to prove the existence of a potential risk before demanding toxicity tests.