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President Obama Signs New Law Affecting Chemicals & Labeling

By Sally Murdoch

President Obama signed in the first substantial change to the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, since Congress enacted the legislation 40 years ago

From when it began in 1970, the charge of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been to ensure that all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn, and work. So on June 22, 2016, when President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act into law, it sent shockwaves throughout the chemical manufacturing and handling community as well as the consumer products industry.

This law is the first substantial change to the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, since Congress enacted the legislation 40 years ago. It also means warning labels will play a greater role in risk management. In the congressional language: “EPA can impose a variety of risk management measures, including use restrictions, limitations on production volumes, warning labels, recordkeeping or product or disposal bans. EPA would have the authority to adopt a range of regulatory options to address risks from chemical substances. For example, EPA could require manufacturers to put warning labels on selected chemicals.”

Wrote EPA officials, ”While the intent of the original TSCA law was spot-on, it fell far short of giving EPA the authority we needed to get the job done. It became clear that without major changes to the law, EPA couldn’t take the actions necessary to protect people from toxic chemicals. Diverse stakeholders, including industry, retailers, and public health and environmental experts, recognized these deficiencies and began to demand major reforms to the law.”

The new law was named after Hon. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Senator who advocated for smoking bans on airplanes in the 1980s. Hazardous chemicals had been in discussion between the EPA and legislators for decades, yet it wasn't until 2015 that the bill was ushered onto the senate floor as Senate Bill S.697.

What This New Legislation Means to the Chemical Industry

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act requires the EPA to evaluate existing chemicals, with clear and enforceable deadlines. Under the old law, the tens of thousands of chemicals already in existence by 1976 were grandfathered into compliance.

With the new law in effect, the EPA will now prioritize and evaluate chemicals “on a specific and enforceable schedule.” This new chemical assessment program will require EPA to continually evaluate a minimum of 20 chemicals simultaneously, and to begin another chemical review as soon as one is completed.

Labeling hazardous chemicals will move to the forefront of safety managers’ jobs, and chemical labeling flowcharts, including one developed by Graphic Products, can be valuable aids in navigating the existing label requirements. If manufacturers need to print their own labels, DuraLabel industrial label and sign printers by Graphic Products provide numerous customizable tools.

The law states that, as part the agency’s new responsibilities, “The EPA must designate a certain number of existing chemicals as high- or low-priority for safety assessments and determinations and conduct safety assessments and determinations for high-priority chemicals.”

What This New Law Means to Consumers

In the eyes of the EPA, their hands have been tied for 40 years in classifying certain chemicals as hazardous–even, they wrote, when the science demanded action on certain chemicals.

For example, the EPA points to their attempt to ban asbestos under TSCA during the G.W. Bush Administration; the rule was overturned in court. In the law’s 40-year history, only a handful of the 80,000 chemicals that have gone through the EPA’s old listing process have ever been reviewed by the EPA for health impacts, and only five have ever been banned.

Furthermore, only about 7% of the roughly 3,000 high-volume chemicals in the U.S. have been tested for safety.

n a nutshell, the biggest changes will be:

  • Controlling how the EPA's rules interact with those state-specific rules, and requiring the states to pay closer attention to the EPA’s approach in the future
  • Changing how the EPA adds new chemicals to the list, including deadlines for EPA action
  • Dramatically improving how the EPA decides whether to impose restrictions on a chemical
  • Limiting the business-confidentiality rules, which had left loopholes for indefinite non-disclosure

Chemical Management and Labels

Graphic Products leads the industry with DuraLabel industrial label and sign printerspre-printed hazardous material signage, HazCom 2012 webinars, Guides, and more. Check out the Hazardous Material hub for additional resources following the new ruling.