US congress has debated chemical safety, without resolution, for 25 years. On May 22nd a bipartisan group of senators announced a compromise that won support from both environmental and industry officials. Under this legislation:
- All chemicals used in commerce must be evaluated for safety and labeled as either "high" or low" priority based on potential risk to human health and the environment. For high risk chemicals, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must conduct further safety evaluations.
- If a chemical is found to be unsafe, EPA is given the authority to impose safety requirements or, in some instances, order a full phase-out or ban of a chemical.
- EPA is ordered to, with full transparency, prioritize chemicals for rules.
- New chemicals entering the market must be screened for safety.
- EPA is authorized to secure health and safety information from manufacturers, but first must rely on existing information to avoid duplicate testing.
- EPA is required to evaluate the risks of chemicals to children and pregnant women. This is a new requirement, according to sponsors.
- States and municipalities are given the opportunity to provide input on prioritization, safety assessment and the safety determination process. Their suggestions must get a timely response from EPA and there's a waiver process in which EPA can allow state regulations or laws to remain in effect when circumstances warrant.
Missing from the bill are provisions, previously sought by environmentalists, which would have required chemical companies to use less dangerous chemicals when EPA determined that they were readily available and could be used comparably to the chemical being replaced. According to industry groups this would allow EPA to determine their business operations without an understanding of why certain chemicals can't be replaced without significant impact on product effectiveness or cost concerns.
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