New Law Aims to Increase Regulation of Toxic Substances

President Barack Obama has signed into law new measures granting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased power to regulate toxic chemicals and substances at the federal level.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, named for the late New Jersey Democratic Senator who championed new toxic substance laws before his death in 2013, is the first major overhaul of national chemical policy since the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Its main purpose is to standardize various state regulations concerning the manufacture and use of dangerous chemicals, such as asbestos, formaldehyde, styrene, and BPA.

“This is a big deal. This is a good law. It’s an important law,” the President said at the White House bill-signing ceremony on June 22. “Here in America, folks should have the confidence to know the laundry detergent we buy isn’t going to make us sick, [or] the mattress that our babies sleep on aren’t going to harm them.”

In a rare show of bipartisan cooperation, the bill received widespread support from both Democrats and Republicans.

“I want the American people to know that this is proof that even in the current polarized political climate here in Washington, things can work — it’s possible,” Obama said. “If we can get this bill done it means that somewhere out there on the horizon, we can make our politics less toxic as well.”

The United States is the world’s largest chemical producer, with approximately $770 billion in output in 2012. Some detractors say the new law doesn’t give the EPA enough power to regulate the chemicals industry, while others argue that it oversteps state’s rights.

“Any time you see Democrats and Republicans come together on a piece of legislation, it does reflect a measure of compromise, which means that there may be some people who will criticize it because it’s not perfect,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Overall, however, the tremendous support from both parties, as well as industry groups and environmental advocate agencies, has marked the bill as a success.

“We are heartened to see the inclusion of sound toxicological principles and risk concepts, including an emphasis on exposure as well as hazard, in the bill,” said John B. Morris, president of the Society of Toxicology. “[It] contains strong, objective, scientific underpinnings and will protect public health for years to come.”

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