On December 17, 2015, the United States Senate passed a bill by voice vote that updates the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976.  The bipartisan supported legislation would implement major changes to TSCA, which regulates the manufacturing and sale of chemicals.

TSCA requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate new and existing chemical substances in commerce that present an “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”  See 15 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.  In general, before manufacturing a new chemical substance, companies must submit a Pre-Manufacture Notice (PMN) to EPA, which allows the agency to assess potential risks with the substance.  EPA then maintains a list of approximately 85,000 existing chemicals on the “TSCA Inventory,” which may include certain manufacturing or use restrictions.

Despite this general framework, many consider TSCA to be outdated and ineffective.  For example, when TSCA was originally implemented, thousands of existing chemicals were published on the TSCA Inventory and EPA did not determine whether they presented an unreasonable risk.  Several states have also implemented tighter restrictions, which has made it more difficult for companies to achieve regulatory compliance due to inconsistencies in the law.

As a result, Congress launched a bipartisan effort to modernize TSCA.  Under the current version of the Senate’s reform bill, S. 697, EPA must assess the potential risks of existing chemicals substances.  Companies can also ask EPA to prioritize the review of certain chemicals.  Finally, the bill is expected to create more uniform standards between state and federal law.

The House of Representatives passed its own version of the bill earlier this year.  Based on the strong bipartisan support for the legislation, which many view as long overdue, it is expected that some version of the bill will eventually become law.  The differences between the House bill and Senate bill will now be reconciled before a final bill is expected to be voted on and sent to the President.