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U.S. House approves changes to chemical safety law

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The U.S. House Tuesday night gave overwhelming approval to legislation changing the way the Environmental Protection Agency reviews and evaluates potentially toxic and dangerous chemicals used in commerce. On a vote of 398 to 1, the House supported the measure, HR 2576, sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.

The Toxic Substances Control Act, written in 1976, is seen as a failure by many business and environmental organizations that, along with members of Congress, say it has built-in weaknesses and unnecessary complexities that prevent the EPA from doing its job.

“The thing that unifies most members of Congress on this bill is that the law as currently written, and trying to be complied with, is a failure,” Shimkus told St. Louis Public Radio. Eight Republicans and five Democrats cosponsored the bill.

“First, the bill is clear and understandable,” Shimkustold House colleagues last night. “Despite the highly technical nature of chemical regulation, members can pick up this bill, read it and, from beginning to end, understand what it does and how it works.

Shimkus said, the bill does “not try to be all things for all people.” Major sections of the current law are left unchanged, including the process for evaluating new chemicals. Shimkus said that part of the law is working pretty well and changes could make it worse.

Under the bill, existing chemicals may be chosen for risk evaluation in one of two ways. First, the EPA may select a chemical based on the agency’s understanding of its potential risk, or chemical’s manufacturer may request a review. In his floor comments, Shimkus said one reason a manufacture may want to request a review is to “put to rest” any questions or concerned raised by the marketplace or other interests.

Another reason a manufacturer may request a review by the EPA is to avoid going through multiple state evaluations. “The state by state approach can spell disaster for someone trying to capture economic scale in a national market,” Shimkus said. “What better way to put these concerns to rest than to have EPA, with the scientific standards that we require, perform an objective risk evaluation?” In such cases, the EPA decision would apply in all states.

The bill also allows companies to help pay the cost of having the EPA review chemicals.

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that at least 80,000 potentially dangerous chemicals have not been fully tested for their impact on human health and the environment. While the group supports several provisions in the bill, a spokesman said, the it is not ready to take a position on the bill at this time, saying the group would like to see changes in some parts.

Work on the bill began three years ago, in the last Congress. Shimkus said the bill has had eight hearings with input from a wide range of interests, including the Obama administration. The bill now heads to the Senate.