Many industries in the United States, such as construction or manufacturing, use chemicals or substances that can cause serious health consequences if misused or handled improperly. From asbestos exposure resulting in mesothelioma to chemical reactions causing catastrophic plant explosions, some substances can pose an incredible risk to both people and the environment. Over the years, many of the most deadly industrial chemicals and products were gradually phased out in favor of cleaner alternatives, but some remain in use today.
In order to protect both the public and the environment from the worst effects of deadly chemicals, the Environmental Protection Agency was given the authority to require record keeping, reporting, testing requirements, and restrictions on chemicals created in or exported into the United States. The EPA’s oversight over potentially dangerous chemicals was initially granted through the Toxic Substances Control Act, which passed in 1976. In 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act updated the Toxic Substances Control Act.
What Does the Toxic Substances Control Act Do?
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed so that chemicals used in the U.S. would be subject to stricter safety measures and governmental oversight. It granted the EPA the ability to require record-keeping of specific chemicals used and the power to monitor compliance and restrict the usage of dangerous substances when needed. Through the TSCA, the EPA has authority over the production, importation, research, and disposal of specified chemicals and substances.
However, not all chemicals used across the U.S. are regulated by the EPA in accordance with the TSCA. Pesticides are regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Tobacco is regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), nuclear materials are regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and foods, cosmetics, drugs, and certain devices fall under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) jurisdiction. It’s always a good idea to research any products or materials being used in home improvements to ensure their safety and compliance with relevant regulations.
Some chemicals and substances may also be free of TSCA requirements due to the research and development (R & D) exemption if they are:
- Manufactured, used, or imported in small quantities
- Tested under the supervision of a qualified individual
- Used solely for non-commercial analysis, data collection, or scientific experimentation
Measuring the TSCA’s Impact on Health & Wellness
When it was initially passed, the TSCA was designed to protect people from extended or unrequired exposure to needlessly dangerous chemicals. As such, the TSCA has had a largely positive impact, as it significantly reduces the risk to workers and members of the general public. Environmentally Friendly Pressure Washing is an important consideration for businesses and individuals looking to clean their properties without harming the environment. Some of the lasting effects of the act include:
- Stronger protections from chemical hazards for vulnerable members of the U.S., such as the elderly or young children
- Implementation of up-to-date testing techniques and scientific knowledge to inform risk evaluation decisions
- EPA safety reviews implemented for both new and existing chemical compounds
- The ability for industries to request an EPA safety assessment for new or unfamiliar substances
- EPA decisions on chemical usage to be risk-based
- Increased transparency into how the EPA judges chemical risk and makes decisions
- Improved oversight and enhanced safety testing of chemicals used, manufactured, or imported into the country
- The development of effective strategies to contain, dispose of, or properly use high-risk substances
- The creation of a strong, centralized regulatory system to oversee the creation, transportation, and use of chemicals, emphasizing communication between federal, state, and tribal agencies
What Substances Does the TSCA Create EPA Oversight For?
Many chemicals used, produced, or transported into the U.S. are subject to EPA regulations and oversight under the TSCA. Some of the most well-known chemicals that fall under the act include mercury, lead, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), formaldehyde, and hexavalent chromium compounds. Many of these substances can have serious or life-threatening medical effects if a person ingests them or is even exposed to them for enough time. For example, mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause insomnia, headaches, impairment of motor functions, muscle weakness, memory loss, or emotional changes.
You may be wondering how people might come into contact with dangerous chemicals in their daily life. Mercury is used in photography, thermometers, dental amalgam, and as a disinfectant. PCBs are commonly found in antiquated electric equipment, such as capacitors, electrical insulators, and transformers. Until they were banned in 1979, PCBs were even found in household items such as televisions or refrigerators. Asbestos was regularly used as a building material before discovering its health effects. Formaldehyde is used to produce paper, plywood, resins, and fertilizer. Lead is used in household products such as pipes, batteries, paint, ceramics, and even some cosmetics.
How Does the EPA Monitor Compliance With TSCA Regulations?
The EPA implemented a compliance monitoring strategy to allow the agency to carry out TSCA regulations efficiently. A number of programs were created to track the usage and testing of substances in the U.S., including:
- Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
- Lead-based Paint Program
- Title II Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) Program
- New & Existing Chemicals Program
Compliance monitoring encompasses a series of evaluations that allow the EPA to determine whether facilities are correctly adhering to the guidelines of the TSCA. Off-site and on-site compliance monitoring may be used to confirm whether facilities are in compliance with the law. The EPA has the authority to observe facilities, take pictures, interview workers, and collect local samples. Any violations discovered can lead to civil or criminal enforcement. When mixtures or substances put the public at risk of injury, the EPA must be immediately notified.
What is the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act?
In 2016, the EPA was strengthened by the passage of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. This act enhances health protections for the environment and people living or traveling in America. The new act mandates safety reviews for chemicals used in active commerce, implements a health-based safety standard for reviews and enforcement, and makes more information about chemicals available to the general public. The act has been generally well-received as a much-needed overhaul of the TSCA.
Continuing Efforts to Protect the Public From Deadly Chemicals
Thanks to modern scientific research and testing methods, we have been able to gradually phase out or severely limit the use of many harmful substances. However, there will likely always be a need for thorough enforcement and oversight of chemical substances to protect the environment and public from serious dangers.