The Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), enacted by Congress in 1976, required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the health and environmental effects of new chemicals and chemicals already in commerce. It gave EPA the ability to track the 75,000 industrial chemicals currently produced by, or imported into, the United States. EPA screens those chemicals, and can require reporting or testing of those that may pose an environmental or human-health hazard (TSCA does not cover pesticides, drugs or nuclear materials). EPA can also ban the manufacture and import of those chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk.
EPA has mechanisms in place to track the thousands of new chemicals that industry develops each year with either unknown or dangerous characteristics, and can then control these chemicals, as necessary, to protect human health and the environment. TSCA supplements other Federal statutes, including the Clean Air Act and the Toxic Release Inventory.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA, pronounced 'rick-rah') gave the EPA authority to control hazardous waste from the 'cradle-to-grave.' This includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste.
The 1986 amendments to RCRA enabled EPA to address environmental problems that could result from underground storage tanks for petroleum and other hazardous substances. (RCRA focuses only on active and future facilities, and does not address abandoned or historical sites -- see CERCLA, below)
A program for cleanup of hazardous substance releases to the environment, especially cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste sites, was created by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA is the formal name for Superfund). The program was overhauled and expanded by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA).
SARA made several important changes and additions to the program, including:
Superfund is the informal name of the trust fund used to pay for cleanups by the government and to pay costs of the program. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers the Superfund program in cooperation with individual states and tribal governments.
In the absence of action from Congress to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), state legislatures across the country have been stepping in to fill the void. In the past nine years, over 80 chemical safety laws have been passed with bipartisan support.
State legislators have tackled issues such as bisphenol-a (BPA) successfully passing legislation to remove BPA from baby products. Their successes led to the Food and Drug Administration announcing its plan to ban BPA from children’s sippy cups on July 17, 2012.
In addition to BPA, New York and Washington have passed legislation to create a chemicals of concern registry. Other states have successfully banned certain toxic flame retardants and taken toxic children’s jewelry off the shelves.
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