On June 22, 2016, the bi-partisan supported Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (LCSA) into law. This law amends the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the federal framework that had been intended to control the use of chemicals in commerce. Intended, because TSCA has widely been seen as ineffective.
Driving the new law has been a growing demand by consumers for better regulation over the chemicals found in their everyday products, including housewares, furniture and mattresses. While this is the first substantial update since TSCA was passed in 1976, how much of an impact the update will actually have remains to be seen.
Slow Motion Impact
One concern is the slow pace of planned chemical review under LCSA, particularly given how many chemicals are found in consumer products. Way back in 2001, the TSCA chemical inventory listed 73,757 chemicals in commercial and since then an estimated 2,000-2,500 in new chemicals applications have been submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) each year. Of all of these chemicals, most have never undergone substantial toxicological evaluations, and certainly few have ever been removed or regulated.
As part of the new LCSA, risk evaluations began at the end of 2016 for 10 out of 90 chemicals listed on a 2014 update of the TSCA Work Plan for Chemical Assessments. This list, compiled by the EPA, has set aside chemicals deemed a high priority for evaluation (only four so far have been evaluated). This list doesn’t mean other chemicals are not problematic, but was created as a type of starting point. Moving forward, the EPA will then require testing a minimum of 20 chemicals at a time, each with a seven-year deadline.
Even if math isn’t your thing, you can see it could take a couple hundred years and more to get through even the current inventory.
Here’s the Start
Believe it or not, asbestos (yes, that asbestos), is on this initial list of ten substances. Surprised asbestos, a known carcinogen, isn’t already more regulated? TSCA tried before but didn’t have the regulatory teeth to ban it. Even though the bad press surrounding asbestos has caused its use to dramatically decline in the U.S., the EPA has decided to try again, seeing if this new incarnation of the law can do what its predecessor couldn’t.
Another chemical being evaluated as part of LCSA’s initial ten is 1,4 dioxane, a common solvent and potential carcinogen and neurotoxic chemical. This chemical made the hot list due to its common usage in things that go in our mouth and on our skin: toothpaste, shampoo, mouthwash and other personal care items.
Relating to the mattress world, the brominated flame retardant HBCD, also used in rigid polystyrene foams and electronics, will be evaluated. The other eight chemicals selected for evaluation are: 1-Bromopropane; Carbon Tetrachloride; Methylene Chloride; N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP); Pigment Violet 29; Trichloroethylene (TCE); and Tetrachloroethylene.
As previously mentioned, though, don’t expect anything to happen quickly. By June 19, 2017, the EPA will produce a “scoping” document for the above ten substances, providing the basic framework of what will be evaluated and the sub-populations affected by the substances. After that, it could take up to three years for only these ten chemicals substances to be evaluated.
Under old TSCA regulations, the wording of the law made it virtually impossible for the EPA to ban chemicals. Even the EPA’s attempted ban of asbestos in consumer products was overturned in 1991. Wording in the new LCSA has been changed so that, in theory, it should grant the EPA a greater ability to evaluate and possibly regulate chemicals. Whether the new wording will lead to more effective regulation will be seen over time.
Overriding State’s Rights
The new law does have a chilling effect on state’s rights in regards to regulating chemicals in products. While states like California and Vermont, which have passed more rigorous chemical regulations, will still be able to regulate chemicals before they are evaluated by the EPA, they will be required to accept the EPA’s final ruling of chemicals regardless of their own research.
What Happens Now?
It will take time to see how this new law functions. Regardless of how it does, or doesn’t work, many years will pass for consumers to see changes to the chemicals allowed in their products.
For the near future, it appears likely that changes toward green chemistry will be more heavily influenced by consumer demands and buying decisions rather than by government regulation. Educated consumers, ultimately, hold more potential power for driving changes.
Learn more about the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (LCSA).