President Signs TSCA Reform, but Hurdles Remain
On June 22, President Barack Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, finalizing reform of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). 
Named for the late Senator Lautenberg, a longtime proponent of TSCA reform, the Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act requires EPA to evaluate the safety of existing chemicals in commerce, starting with those most likely to cause risks, and to evaluate new and existing chemicals against a new risk-based safety standard that includes explicit considerations for vulnerable populations. 
“This is proof that even in the current polarized political climate here in Washington, things can work,” the president said at a White House signing ceremony.

But while the Lautenberg Act had bipartisan support and help from both environmentalists and chemical manufacturers, its effectiveness—including EPA’s ability to meet all its requirements—remains to be seen. The Act sets tight deadlines for the agency to promulgate several rules specifying how it will execute the law. The details of those yet-to-be-proposed rules could test the strength of the unusual coalition that guided the Act through Congress, according to lawyer and industrial hygienist Neil Feldscher, CIH, CSP, FAIHA.
“We don’t know that this is going to be an improvement,” says Feldscher. “TSCA in ’76 was revolutionary, and then we found all of its shortcomings. I think it’s going to be interesting to see if we end up with something that EPA can effectively manage, and [that doesn’t] leave chemicals out there for decades while they figure out whether they’re hazards or not.”
For Feldscher, who previously worked for a large environmental law practice, EPA’s biggest immediate challenge will be to specify its screening process for identifying high priority chemicals. “That is a rule that EPA is going to have to write, and they’re only being given one year to write it,” Feldscher says. “And I can imagine how either side of this issue may not be satisfied. The environmentalist side may feel it’s not strong enough, it’s not strict enough, it doesn’t require enough, and the chemical manufacturing side may feel it’s too strict.”
"If we start seeing thousands of chemicals identified as a high risk, then I think we’re going to have to reevaluate if and when risk assessments can be completed."
Given that more than 70,000 chemicals have been identified in commerce, the number of high priority chemicals could exceed EPA’s capacity to conduct timely risk assessments, Feldscher says.
“If only a few hundred chemicals are put into the high category, that may be a realistic goal, though it will still require a significant amount of time,” Feldscher says. He notes that in 2014, EPA identified 345 chemicals as high risk under its current screening process. “But if we start seeing thousands of chemicals identified as a high risk, then I think we’re going to have to reevaluate if and when risk assessments can be completed.”
One of the more sensitive aspects of the new law concerns how EPA will address claims of confidentiality. Under TSCA, EPA collected and shared a range of information on chemicals. But chemical manufacturers’ claims of confidentiality limited the release of information to EPA. 
Under the Lautenberg Act, EPA will issue a new rule describing how it will decide whether to grant confidentiality. As a first step, manufacturers will have to provide EPA with a list of all chemicals they’ve manufactured or processed in the last ten years. 
“Every manufacturer’s going to have to submit what they produce, and they’re going to have to substantiate their claims for confidentiality,” Feldscher says. “They’re going to have to explain” why their claims have merit, “which appears to be requiring the EPA to re-review all older confidentiality claims.”
More information about the Lautenberg Act is available from EPA.
See the sidebar at the end of this article for an interview with Neil Feldscher.