When I read that the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2576, the Toxic Substances Control Modernization Act of 2015, on a vote of 398-1, my first reaction was, wow, when do both sides of the aisle ever agree on anything? My second thought was, who is the outlier? That happened to be Tom McClintock, a member of that endangered species—the California Republican party—and an unwavering advocate of small government. Even he concedes that the bill is "well-intentioned," but faults it for granting "sweeping new powers" to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Be that as it may, there is widespread consensus that reform is needed in a law that has been static since it was enacted in 1976.
SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association wasted no time in applauding the bill, which passed the House on June 23. "The world is a different place than it was when the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was first enacted in 1976," said SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux in a prepared statement. "The plastics industry has seen amazing growth and transformation in size and sophistication over the last four decades, but TSCA has remained largely unchanged. By approving H.R. 2576, the House of Representatives has taken a big step in the right direction, toward a regulatory regime that protects consumers without making the plastics industry comply with regulations that are redundant or based on outdated science."
While the need for reform is widely acknowledged, there is uncertainty about the impact it will have on the cost and availability of plastics and other materials incorporating substances of interest, as Ann R. Thryft, Senior Technical Editor at DesignNews, notes in a recent blog post.
A key part of the legislation would provide the EPA with additional resources to manage the thousands of chemicals in use today. "Manufacturers and importers would pay fees to EPA for doing assessments," Dow Chemicals' Director of Product Sustainability and Compliance Connie Deford told Thryft. So, there's that. It may also introduce delays in the supply chain, as companies seek to comply with testing and registration requirements, creating a paucity of supply for products made from substances deemed dangerous until an alternative material or process can be found. As has been seen in Europe, which has taken a lead on chemical legislation, that can have serious consequences. "Alternative methods can sometimes be found to approach an attachment problem, such as using fasteners," Patrick Blanke, Chemistry Compliance Manager for adhesives manufacturer Delo, explained to Thryft. But "sometimes a restricted chemicals performance can't be equaled," he added.
Nevertheless, the plastics industry is on board with the program. As Carteaux noted in his statement, we are on the verge of seeing the establishment of a "21st century regulatory infrastructure for chemicals in commerce that will enable regulators to ensure public safety without placing an undue burden on industry." A similar bill, S-697, awaits a vote in the Senate, and Carteaux is looking forward to moving the "legislation across the finish line."