It has been nearly 40 years since Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the law that empowers the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate industrial chemicals used in American commerce.  Advancements in science and the way in which our industry assesses risk have improved since the 1970s, yet TSCA has largely remained in neutral.  It’s time to modernize this outdated policy.  In fact, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) has been an active proponent of bipartisan legislation that would have overhauled TSCA in this Congress.

There is one provision of TSCA that deserves to be kept intact, however.  It permits manufacturers to use a generic name when publicly disclosing an industrial chemical they produce rather than the scientific name that is submitted to EPA.  In other words, certain chemical information that could be used by competitors if revealed is permitted to be classified as confidential.  Divulging the most proprietary of information about a manufacturer’s chemical rather than permitting the use of a generic name creates a chilling effect on the development of new, greener chemicals.  If a manufacturer knows that the investments it makes to develop a safer or more sustainable industrial chemical will only be compromised before or at the moment it is placed into commerce, the manufacturer has no incentive to produce it. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Using a generic name, however, does not compromise health and safety data EPA receives and uses to make regulatory decisions.  Furthermore, in a case where the chemical identity of a substance is not publicly divulged, the EPA has a legal obligation under TSCA to evaluate the safety of the substance. 

Chemical safety is paramount in our industry.  It’s important for an industry of our size—representing $9 billion in U.S. sales—to maintain consumer confidence in our products.  A lack of public confidence puts pressure on state governments and retailers to reactively impose bans and blacklists, ultimately driving the wedge of government between businesses and consumers. 

Information about the safety of industrial chemicals is publicly available more than TSCA critics let on.  Chemical companies have been proactive in voluntarily de-classifying previously confidential substances whenever possible.  In fact, according to EPA’s website, “Since 2011, many companies have risen to the challenge resulting in nearly 1000 documents with formerly confidential chemical identities being made public.”  Furthermore, chemical information is publicly accessible not only through TSCA but through other federal statutes as well.  The Occupational Safety & Health Act requires the results of any toxicity and hazard studies regarding a chemical to be available via a public data source known as the Material Safety Data Sheet.  Also, in emergency situations, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act allows a treating physician to get access to confidential business information without a previous confidentiality agreement. 

A reformed TSCA can provide public confidence in the safety of industrial chemicals without compromising our industry’s ability to answer the call for greener, safer chemistries.  Bipartisan legislation introduced in this Congress would have appropriately struck that balance.  Unfortunately, some groups that supported TSCA reform made the perfect be the enemy of the good, keeping TSCA in neutral farther down the road than necessary.

Allmond is the vice president, Government and Public Relations, for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), the only U.S.-based trade association dedicated solely to the batch, custom and specialty chemical industry, with a global membership of more than 200 companies.