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Agency Leaders Testify on TSCA Reform

By Ed Kang
January 2010

NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., provided her testimony at the Senate hearing on TSCA reform. (
NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., provided her testimony ( Exit NIEHS at the Senate hearing on TSCA reform.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works convened a hearing on Dec. 2 to consider reform of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson, U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) Natural Resources and Environment Director, John Stephenson, and NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., provided remarks and testified to the committee chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer of California.

TSCA was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976, and was intended to restrict or ban the use of toxic chemicals. "However, more than three decades later, TSCA has not lived up to that promise," Chairwoman Boxer said. "TSCA does not include sufficient protections for pregnant women, infants, children, and others who are particularly vulnerable to chemical exposures. [There is] growing consensus that now is the time to act to transform America's toxic chemical policies." She added, "EPA is stepping up to the plate on the need to reform our toxics laws."

EPA and GAO leaders offer compelling arguments for updating legislation

EPA Administrator Jackson testified ( Exit NIEHS on her agency's principles for TSCA reform, which were announced earlier this fall. These modernizations address the risks of dangerous toxic chemicals. Jackson said, "Standards should be driven solely by scientific evidence of risks." She also expressed a desire to place "the legal obligation on producers to conduct testing" and to expand EPA's "authority to take risk management actions when chemicals do not meet safety standards."

According to Stephenson, the Government Accountability Office placed the chemical program on its list of "high risk" programs requiring executive branch and congressional attention. In his remarks ( Exit NIEHS Stephenson summarized a GAO report that identified "significant shortcomings with TSCA," and recommended "broadening EPA's authority to develop sufficient information to support critical decisions regarding how to protect human health and the environment from toxic chemicals."

Birnbaum points to a new testing paradigm for moving forward

As the final witness, Birnbaum talked at length about the progress in environmental health science and the importance of partnerships between agencies. "TSCA reform can be built upon vastly improved and less expensive toxicological testing methods. The NTP is laying the foundation for this testing paradigm in partnership with the National Human Genome Research Institute and the EPA."

Birnbaum closed her testimony with a salient acknowledgement that encapsulated the hearing's presentations. "Over the past 33 years, we've significantly expanded our understanding of chemical exposures and health. It only stands to reason that TSCA would, at some point, be updated to account for scientific progress. We must have the ability to harness new technologies and our growing knowledge. We are poised to move forward, and new tools will provide for research and development to create the comprehensive testing our citizens deserve under a revitalized TSCA."

(Ed Kang is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

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