Historical Lessons Suggest Ways to Retool the Toxic Substances Control Act

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), enacted by Congress in 1976, is the primary federal statute regulating industrial chemicals in commerce. But the law has not accomplished as much as its authors intended, and reauthorization by Congress has been stalled.

“Much of the agenda remains unaccomplished after nearly 35 years of implementation,” Jessica Schifano, a policy analyst for the Chemicals Policy and Science Initiative at the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, said at a recent seminar at AAAS. “Many critics argue that the core provisions of TSCA itself are to blame for this failure, but this perspective does not tell the whole story.”

Inadequate implementation of the law also is a key factor, Schifano said. “Our research really did focus on the document trail that EPA has left behind” during its rule-making, she said. The agency has been hampered by a lack of clear deadlines and time frames in the law, she said, as well as no clear criteria on what constitutes a “chemical of concern” under the law.

Jody Roberts, associate director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, said a look at archival records and interviews with those who helped craft the original bill can provide new perspectives on how the law came to be “and the ways in which it evolved and lived as something that people have continued to grapple with.”



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Jessica Schifano, policy analyst at the Chemicals Policy and Science Initiative, Lowell Center for Sustainable Production; and Jody Roberts, associate director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy, Chemical Heritage Foundation, discuss their archival research on the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.

As one example, he cited the Environmental Protection Agency’s unsuccessful effort in the 1980s to ban asbestos, a rule-making that ultimately was blocked by a federal court which found that EPA had failed to present “substantial evidence” to justify the ban under TSCA. The administration of President George H.W. Bush did not appeal the finding.

The 19 November presentation by Roberts and Schifano was the latest seminar in a series co-sponsored by the AAAS Archives and the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Center for Contemporary History and Policy. The full details of the TSCA oral history project are at the Chemical Heritage Society Web site.

The following video includes segments from the presentations by Roberts and Schifano at the seminar.



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Highlights from presentations by Jessica Schifano and Jody Roberts at the 19 November AAAS seminar on the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.

Watch a highlights video of Jody Roberts and Jessica Schifano discussing the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.

Watch the full presentation.

Read more about the AAAS Archives and Chemical Heritage Foundation’s seminar series.