Chemical Safety Receives an Overhaul: TSCA Reform Has Arrived

chemical safety
What can companies do to prepare for upcoming chemical safety changes caused by the overhauled Toxic Substances Control Act?
Image source: Flickr CC user John Bell

It may be hard to believe, but 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of when the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) was first passed. Meant to regulate both new and existing chemicals, it’s faced several criticisms over the years—namely that it doesn’t do enough. In fact, a 2014 chemical spill in Elk River, West Virginia, exposed weaknesses in the chemical safety legislation and led to concerted efforts to update the act.

It’s regrettable that it took a disaster for overhaul support to gain momentum. Since its passage in 1976, the act has never been updated. Many people who’ve handled the toxic substances the legislation is meant to regulate—myself included—are younger than the law itself. To say these efforts are long past due is an understatement.

Last year saw considerable movement in efforts to reform the TSCA. With both the House and the Senate coming up with proposals, the end result was inevitable. In December, the Senate voted to approve their version of the reform bill.1 The Senate bill requires that the EPA set clear guidelines for assessing the potential risks of hazardous chemicals. It also increases the number of substances that will be reviewed by regulators.

Companies Can Prepare for Chemical Safety Changes

The aftermath of the West Virginia chemical spill left many people scared and distrustful of companies handling these potentially dangerous materials. I can’t say I blame them. No one wants to hear that hazardous chemicals leaked into their public water supply, and that officials and experts don’t actually know much about them.2 That’s the absolute worst case scenario and one that TSCA reform proponents hope to prevent in the future.

So what’s next for TSCA reform? Since the House already voted to approve their version of a reform bill, it will need to merge with the Senate’s proposal. And even though we typically associate Congress with slow decision-making, the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee already announced his intention to push the legislation along. Reconciliation of the two bills could come as early as this month.3 The speed at which Congress plans to move the legislation along says a lot about how much they’re prioritizing the overhaul. Who knows? We might even see it signed into law by the President later this year.

In the meantime, though, companies don’t have to just stand by and wait for change to be enacted. We’ve seen the details of the proposals hashed out for the past year. There are no surprises. To ease the transition presented by a chemical safety overhaul of this magnitude, firms can prepare in the following ways:

  • Chemical Inventory – Taking a complete inventory of chemicals used by your firm, their respective amounts, and their exact locations will aid in future compliance and meeting regulatory standards. If updated regulations should affect existing chemicals in use, a company can determine whether it’s in their inventory and locate it in a snap.
  • Safety Procedures – Companies should confirm that they’re following the most up-to-date chemical safety protocols for the chemicals in their inventory. Are the substances stored in the correct containers? Are employees trained properly in how to handle them?
  • Hazard Communication Standard – Organizations need to ensure that they have a written plan in place listing steps to follow should the worst case scenario occur. Is there a protocol for how to dispose of a chemical safely? How about in the case of a spill? If someone is exposed, what potential adverse effects do they need to be aware of?

A chemical safety overhaul of this size is sure to cause growing pains for many companies. It’s been a long time since a reform bill has affected this many industries. Nevertheless, companies can prepare themselves for inevitable change in a variety of ways. BIOVIA CISPro is a management system that helps organizations handle their chemical inventory safely and effectively. Built-in tools allow users to track chemicals via barcode technology. Its digital platform transitions facilities from dusty paper binders to centralized software that lets people access up-to-date chemical safety information about storage, handling and potential hazards from anywhere. If your firm would like to prepare for regulatory chemical safety changes by updating your chemical management system, please contact us today to learn more about BIOVIA CISPro.

  1. “Senate Votes to Overhaul Chemical Safety and Ban Beads in Beauty Products,” December 19, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/20/us/senate-votes-to-overhaul-chemical-safety-and-ban-beads-in-beauty-products.html?referer=https:/www.google.com/
  2. “Editorial: Legislation to regulate chemicals a step forward,” December 26, 2015, http://www.herald-dispatch.com/opinion/editorial-legislation-to-regulate-chemicals-a-step-forward/article_a77f28e1-386b-5849-b3ee-27a06e32c574.html
  3. “Inhofe Aims to Quickly Merge, Move TSCA Overhaul Bills,” January 13, 2016, http://www.bna.com/inhofe-aims-quickly-n57982066124/

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