Toxic Substances Control Act:

Legislative Changes Could Make the Act More Effective

RCED-94-103: Published: Sep 26, 1994. Publicly Released: Oct 26, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to: (1) assess the risks of toxic chemicals; (2) control those chemicals found to be harmful; and (3) make information on chemical risks publicly available.

GAO found that: (1) although TSCA authority is an important regulatory tool, EPA has been discouraged from using TSCA to limit the manufacture, distribution, and use of toxic chemicals; (2) EPA has generally interpreted TSCA as giving preference to dealing with chemical risks under other laws; (3) EPA has issued regulations to control only nine chemicals in almost 18 years; (4) although EPA has reviewed new chemicals in a timely manner, its process does not ensure that their potential risks are fully assessed before they enter commerce; (5) because of the time-consuming and costly data collection process, EPA reviewed about 2 percent of the 62,000 chemicals that were in commerce when it began to review new chemicals; (6) TSCA provisions on confidential business information are difficult for EPA to implement because EPA cannot disseminate much of the information that industry claims is confidential; and (7) while EPA believes that many claims are not necessary to protect trade secrets and has successfully challenged the validity of some claims, it does not have the resources to challenge a significant portion of the industry's confidentiality claims.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress held hearings in May and July of 1994 to identify problems with the act. The appropriate committees do not plan further action.

    Matter: To put existing chemicals on a more equal footing with new chemicals, Congress could consider revising TSCA to set specific deadlines or targets for the review of existing chemicals. These deadlines or targets would provide for EPA to establish priorities to review those chemicals that, on the basis of their toxicity, production volumes, and potential exposure, present the highest risk to health and the environment.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress held hearings in May and July of 1994 to identify problems with the act. The appropriate committees do not plan further action.

    Matter: To ensure that EPA can implement its initiatives without having to face legal challenges and delays, Congress may wish to consider revising TSCA to: (1) clarify that health and safety data cannot be claimed as confidential business information; (2) require substantiation of confidentiality claims at the time that the claims are submitted to EPA; (3) limit the length of time for which information may be claimed as confidential without resubstantiation of the need for confidentiality; (4) establish penalties for the false filing of confidentiality claims; and (5) authorize states to have access to confidential business information when they can demonstrate to EPA that they have a legitimate need for the information and can adequately protect it against unauthorized disclosure.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress held hearings in May and July of 1994 to identify problems with the act. The appropriate committees do not plan further action.

    Matter: In its deliberations on reauthorizing TSCA, Congress may wish to consider revising the act to place more of the burden on the industry to demonstrate that new chemicals are safe. Some of the burden could be shifted by requiring industry to test new chemicals and to notify EPA of significant increases in production, releases, and exposures or of significant changes in manufacturing processes and uses after new chemicals enter commerce.

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress held hearings in May and July of 1994 to identify problems with the act. The appropriate committees do not plan further action.

    Matter: In its deliberations on reauthorizing TSCA, Congress may wish to consider changes to put the act on an equal footing with other environmental laws and reduce EPA burden of proof in using the act's regulatory authority. In addition, to supplement TSCA chemical-by-chemical and risk-based approach, Congress may wish to consider establishing overall goals for reductions in the use of toxic chemicals and provide EPA with tools, such as market-based incentives, to achieve these goals.

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress held hearings in May and July of 1994 to identify problems with the act. The appropriate committees do not plan further action.

    Matter: Congress could consider revising TSCA to shift to the industry more of the burden for the review of existing chemicals. If more of this responsibility were shared by the industry, EPA could review more chemicals with its current level of resources. In deciding how much burden to shift, the major consideration for Congress is to what extent is providing the data to show that chemicals are safe a cost of doing business for the chemical industry.

 

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