TSCA Reform, Six Years Later

This time – six years ago – I was getting acquainted with Washington D.C. I had taken a job with a new campaign called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. In the beginning the coalition consisted of a leader and a group of around twenty organizations from different backgrounds who all recognized the need to reform our nation’s primary law on toxic chemicals. In a nutshell, people are not protected from toxic chemicals in consumer products, and this new alliance of organizations wanted to change the status quo.

This Minneapolis girl packed up and headed east. Our coalition’s goal was to educate the public about toxic chemicals commonly found in household products like cleaners, children’s toys, building materials, couches and laundry detergent and then ask Congress to act. The primary federal law overseeing chemicals in consumer products – the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – was clearly broken.

alba on the hill

The table was set for TSCA reform: the public was educated and outraged that it is legal to put harmful chemicals in the products we use every day, the chemical industry was upset because dozens of states had successfully passed different regulations on individual chemicals and Congress was poised to do something about it.

Like all major change, it takes time and persistence. And that is exactly what the campaign did; we put in the time and we persisted. The campaign now has staff, over 450 public health, environmental and business coalition members, and a robust presence in all 50 states.

And now, the U.S. Congress is deciding on what a final TSCA reform package looks like. Years, endless hours and sleepless nights have led to this moment. Last summer the U.S. House passed a version of TSCA reform 394-1, the Senate recently passed a different version on unanimous consent (in other words no formal votes are tallied). But there’s a problem, both bills are flawed. Deeply flawed in some cases.

safer chemicals healthy families

The first question when assessing TSCA reform is (and should be): Does the bill protect public health from toxic chemicals? That is the goal after all. And yet in this Congress, the best scenario would be a moderate yet meaningful piece of legislation that ultimate protects our health more than the status quo.

I hope that the best elements from the House and Senate bills will come forth in conference committee, before it heads to the President’s desk.

The negotiations that happen during the conference committee are crucial. We have the choice between a bill that is solely good for the chemical industry, in which case consumer credibility will not be restored. Under this chemical industry friendly scenario, if states have less authority to take action on toxic ingredients, the market pressure will only increase, which means the problem of a chaotic marketplace won’t go away.


Or there is another – preferred – path forward, where the best elements of each bill are put together to create reform that reduces the need for states to pass their own laws on toxic chemicals, public health will be protected and consumer confidence will be restored in our unregulated marketplace.

To me, the choice is clear.

The hard work of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition has led the way for this next important step. More people in Washington know about the issue of our broken consumer safety laws than ever before, Congress knows that this issue plays well with the public, and American families are smart, savvy and now know that their voice matters.

Will the conference committee of these two bills turn out right for public health? It will if we contact our U.S. Senators to ask for the most public health protective TSCA reform possible. A good outcome is not only possible, but our health depends on it.

Take action HERE and tell Congress to pass the strongest bill possible!

And then join my mailing list and never miss a post.

(Photo credit: Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Michelle Martin)

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