Congress May Finally Fill the Open Void in the Toxic Substance Control Act- Is Your Lab Ready?

If your laboratory uses and stores chemicals on site, then you probably understand how frustrating chemical regulation compliance can be. Depending upon the type of chemicals your lab uses, you may have to report information to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state regulators, first responders and, in some cases, private and public businesses. The plethora of regulatory reports can drive even the most calm compliance manager up a wall!

Due to many overlooked or ignored problems, the Toxi Substance Control Act needs to be updated
The Toxic Substance Control Act is in need of fixing.
Image source: NASA via

Fortunately, there is now legislation working its way through Congress that has the potential to fix these problems. But to understand where we are headed with compliance regulations, it is helpful to understand how we got to where we are today.

In 1976, Congress passed the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), a landmark law that regulated new and existing chemicals that “posed an unreasonable risk to health or to the environment.” Although the law was heralded as a success at the time, it did have some flaws. For example, it grandfathered 62,000 chemicals into its inventory as “acceptable,” even though little testing had been performed to substantiate this rating.

Because of these flaws, many non-governmental organizations, academics and scientists have called for an update to the law. Unfortunately, the criticisms and warnings fell on deaf ears, and most politicians were unwilling to update the law.

However, the lack of action led to some surprising results. State governments began to issue comprehensive regulatory programs that were designed to place stricter controls on the identification and use of toxic chemicals. Governments in California, Connecticut and Michigan passed laws that tightened regulations far beyond the initial rules laid out by the TSCA.

In addition, businesses like Walmart implemented their own requirements detailing the use of chemicals within products and phasing out toxic chemicals. At the same time, consumer groups advocated for even more businesses to follow suit or risk a boycott. As evident with these actions, many are trying to plug a perceived hole found within the TSCA.

For laboratories, the government’s inaction in regard to chemical management resulted in a plethora of official and unofficial regulations that chemical businesses and laboratories are now expected to manage. Although these actions have improved the safety of chemicals for consumers, it has also created a regulatory nightmare for companies that now need to worry about TSCA compliance, state compliance and even the requirements of large retailers. In response, many laboratories implemented chemical management systems that are designed to automate the reporting process and reduce the burden of compliance.

Still, there may be hope yet that the federal government will take action and create a single law that addresses the concerns of state and local officials, as well as private enterprises. Earlier this year, the late Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Senator David Vitter of Louisiana introduced legislation that would update and improve the 1976 TSCA regulations. And just last week, Senator Barbara Boxer of California introduced a counterproposal that appeared to have some commonality with the original proposal and created opportunities for compromise. One interesting difference between the two proposals concerns whether or not state government could impose even stricter regulations that the updated TSCA regulations.

Regardless of how the bill proceeds, a chemical management system is the best way to reduce the costs associated with compliance and save the sanity of compliance officers in laboratories everywhere. For more information regarding how Accelrys CISPro can help your organization navigate the chemical regulatory environment, please visit our website today.

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