Twenty-nine senators sign onto bill expanding EPA authority

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Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act on Wednesday to grant new powers to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Twenty-five Democrats and two Independents have joined the measure as co-sponsors.

The bill would reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 1976 law that gives the EPA the authority to ban some chemical substances and regulate others, to give the agency new oversight powers.

“Almost 40 years have passed since we updated the law that keeps consumers safe from toxic chemicals in household products," said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a co-sponsor of the bill, in a statement. "Families in this country should be able to have faith that our system will protect their children from coming in contact with dangerous toys and products."

Current law limits the EPA's ability to test chemicals until after substances have shown evidence of being dangerous.

To address this oversight, the measure would require the agency to conduct risk-based evaluation of chemicals, create a public database of chemical safety information, establish regular reporting requirements and impose other use or labeling rules to reduce risk, all while maintaining the current time frame for chemical manufacturers to bring their products to the market.

“The Safe Chemicals Act will ensure that all chemicals are screened for safety and that unsafe uses of chemicals are banned. It’s time to break away from the chemical industry lobbyists and listen to concerned parents, pediatricians, and nurses who are demanding change," said Lautenberg in a statement.

In 2009, the Government Accountability Office criticized the government's efforts to protect Americans from toxic chemicals. It found that "EPA had not developed sufficient chemical assessment information under these programs to limit exposure to many chemicals that may pose substantial health risks" and called its ability to assess and control toxic chemicals a "high risk issue."

“It’s outrageous that everything from car seats to my son’s dishware could be leaching hormone disrupting or cancer causing chemicals, but the EPA is virtually powerless to regulate them," added Gillibrand. "This legislation will give the EPA the authority to collect the data and study the chemicals in our everyday products and empower consumers with the knowledge they need to keep our families safe.”

Last year, an identical bill was approved by the Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, but did not receive a vote before the full Senate.