WASHINGTON — President Obama signed landmark legislation Wednesday that overhauls the nation’s chemical safety and regulatory laws for the first time in 40 years, strengthens the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and increases government scrutiny of thousands of chemicals that are used in manufacturing and consumer goods.
One key component important to brands and retailers is a provision limiting states’ power to regulate chemicals, providing some preemption of state and local laws and regulations that is spelled out in the law.
“Passage of this groundbreaking legislation is a significant win for the AAFA and our members,” said Rick Helfenbein, president and chief executive officer at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “As downstream users of chemicals, the apparel, footwear, travel goods and textiles industry is committed to making risk-based, informed decisions to protect the health and safety of their consumers and the environment.”
He said the law establishes a “new national chemical-management standard that protects consumers, addresses product safety and provides regulatory predictability for the industry.”
At the signing ceremony, Obama said, “For the first time in our history, we’ll actually be able to regulate chemicals effectively. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st Century will make it easier for the EPA to review chemicals already on the market, as well as the new chemicals our scientists and our businesses design.”
The legislation would make significant changes to The Toxic Substance Control Act, which has not been updated since it was approved in 1976, and subject thousands of new chemicals to more oversight and scrutiny.
“It will do away with an outdated bureaucratic formula to evaluate safety and instead focus solely on the risks to our health, and it will finally grant our scientists and our public servants at the EPA the funding they need to get the job done and keep us safe,” Obama said.
Several major industry associations — including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association and Personal Care Products Council — support the legislation.
Lawmakers and experts have said the EPA, operating under a weak federal framework, has only been able to require testing for 200 out of thousands of chemicals registered in the U.S., and has only been able to ban five dangerous substances. The new bill will establish new safety standards for toxic substances such as asbestos and formaldehyde, among scores of other chemicals that have not been regulated for years.
The new legislation will broaden the agency’s power and will now subject all chemicals to a risk-based safety review. It gives the EPA authority to require companies to provide safety and health data for untested chemicals and to prevent chemicals from reaching the market if they have been deemed unsafe. At present, the EPA must prove that a chemical poses a potential health or safety risk before it can require companies to provide data or testing.