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Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA): Overview

Legal Research guide for information relating to the Toxic Substances Control Act passed in 1976, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed by Congress in September 1976 (House vote 319-45 and Senate vote 60-13) and signed into law by President Gerald Ford on October 11, 1976. The push to regulate toxic substances began in 1971 when the President's Council on Environmental Quality released a report on Toxic Substances and noted that there was a need for comprehensive legislation that would identify and control potentially dangerous chemicals. Although bills were drafted in 1972 and 1973, there was large disagreement over the extent of chemical screening prior to production and distribution. Environmental contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Hudson and other waterways, worries over damage to the ozone layer caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and agricultural contamination from polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) in Michigan all helped spur the passage of legislation after years of stalemate. Section 2 of TSCA lays out the Congressional findings and intent behind the act. Congress believed that there were many chemicals out on the market and continuing to be developed and that some of them posed an unreasonable risk of injury to humans and the environment. Therefore, it was felt that there needed to be adequate data on the effect of chemical substances and mixtures on health and the environment; adequate authority to regulate chemical substances and mixtures that pose an unreasonable risk that would not impose economic barriers to technological innovation. 

TSCA prohibited the manufacture or importation of chemicals not on the TSCA Inventory or subject to an exemption. Anything on the TSCA Inventory is considered an existing chemical and all unlisted chemicals are considered new chemicals. With the passage of TSCA, all chemicals existing at the time were considered safe and grandfathered in to the TSCA Inventory without any testing. Over 60,000 existing chemicals have been tested since the passage of TSCA and some harmful chemicals, like asbestos, have been banned under Section 6. Manufacturers need to provide data on risks posed by existing chemicals and notify the EPA of any significant new use of a chemical. Manufacturers of new chemicals must provide the EPA with a Pre-Manufacturing Notice to inform the Agency about their intent to produce.

TSCA was amended several times throughout the years. Initially, PCBs were regulated. In 1986 and 1990, amendments set standards for asbestos abatement in schools and for the training and certification of asbestos contractors. In 1988, restrictions and warnings on indoor radon were added. In 1992, measures to prevent the use of lead in products as well as state programs to inform about lead exposure were included. However, any widespread amendment to TSCA was not passed for years until 2016, with the passage and signing into law by President Barack Obama of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. This legislation requires the EPA to test existing chemicals within set deadlines, eliminate any identified unreasonable risks, and more quickly require chemical information. 

TSCA and its recent amendments have always received mixed reviews. Some have felt that it imposes a burden on manufacturers while others feel it does not require enough regulation. Congress has always been trying to balance health and environmental safety with commerce.

The resources in this guide should be a starting point in your research. There are other materials available on your topic and this guide is intended to provide you with a good foundation for continuing your research into TSCA.

Assistant Dean of the Law Library

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Deborah L. Heller
Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University
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