A number of dangerous chemicals and substances are used across the United States, from industrial-strength cleaners to toxic building materials and potent weed killers. Over the years, many of the most deadly substances have been subjected to increasingly strict regulations or phased out of use entirely. In 1976, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was granted the authority to require reporting, testing requirements, record-keeping, and restrictions related to specific chemicals or mixed substances. This authority was granted through the Toxic Substances Control Act.
What is the Toxic Substances Control Act?
The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) provides the EPA with the ability to monitor, restrict, and require record-keeping of specific chemical substances to preserve public health. The production, importation, use, and disposal of specific chemicals falls under the EPA’s jurisdiction via the TSCA. The EPA works with federal, state, and tribal regulatory agencies to ensure that the regulations of the TSCA are observed. Non-compliant organizations may face civil penalties or mandatory cleanup actions.
Effects of the TSCA
The TSCA was created to protect members of the public from unnecessary or extended exposure to potentially lethal chemicals and substances. As such, the effects of the litigation have been overwhelmingly positive. The passage of the TSCA has served to:
- Enhance protections for vulnerable members of American society, such as children and the elderly
- Obligate the EPA to use cutting-edge scientific methodology and testing to inform risk evaluation decisions
- Require the EPA to make decisions on chemical usage on risk
- Subject both existing and new chemical concoctions to EPA safety reviews
- Increase transparency in the EPA’s decisions and risk management policies
- Allow industries to request an EPA safety assessment for specific substances
- Increase the EPA’s ability to perform safety testing on chemicals
- Provide the EPA with a number of strategies to address high-risk chemicals
- Create a strong national regulatory system to safely oversee the use and importation of chemicals, with efficient communication at the state, federal, and tribal levels
What Chemicals & Substances Fall Under TSCA Jurisdiction?
A significant number of chemicals and other potentially dangerous substances fall under the jurisdiction of the TSCA. Some of the most well-known toxic substances include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, hexavalent chromium compounds, lead, formaldehyde, and asbestos. Many of these substances are capable of inflicting serious health problems after exposure or ingestion; as an example, “asbestos can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, throat cancer, kidney cancer, esophageal cancer, [and] mesothelioma.”
PCBs are frequently found in dated electric equipment, such as capacitors, transformers, or fluorescent ballasts. From the 1920s until they were banned in 1979, PCBs were used in electrical insulators, microscope oils, and even household electric appliances such as refrigerators or televisions. In some cases, PCBs were even sprayed on roads to minimize dust, which led to widespread environmental contamination.
Asbestos was frequently used as a building material prior to being banned in 1989. The full ban was later repealed, although asbestos mining in the country ended when the last mine closed in 2002. TSCA asbestos regulations require properly certified and trained persons to perform asbestos abatement activities in buildings classified as commercial or public. Additional requirements apply for school buildings. People that work around asbestos are at particularly high risk of adverse health effects.
TSCA Compliance Monitoring
EPA has a compliance monitoring strategy in place for the enforcement of TSCA regulations and guidelines. The agency conducts compliance monitoring of regulated operations under the following programs:
- New & Existing Chemicals Program
- Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
- Title II Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) Program
- Lead-based Paint Program
EPA compliance monitoring includes a set of actions that can determine whether facilities are adhering to the regulations set forth in the TSCA. The agency may perform both on-site and off-site compliance monitoring to determine whether a facility is compliant with proper procedures. Inspections may be carried out to collect local samples, observe facility conditions, interview workers, and take photographs. Any violations, whether discovered due to a formal investigation or a tip from the public, may lead to criminal or civil enforcement.
Protecting the Public From Excessive Exposure to Deadly Chemicals
Continuing scientific advancements have allowed us to gradually phase out chemicals and substances that were found to be hazardous to human life and the environment. Although we have made substantial progress in eliminating excessively dangerous substances from daily life, there will always be a need for thorough oversight and enforcement of chemical policies to prevent adverse effects on human health.