Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), enacted by Congress in 1976, gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the responsibility for checking the relative safety of all chemical substances not already covered under other federal laws. The EPA can control or ban a chemical if it poses an unreasonable risk to human or environmental health. Manufacturers must give the EPA information about new chemicals before they are commercially produced or marketed. The EPA then reviews the information and can order further testing to determine, for instance, whether the substance is persistent, carcinogenic, or otherwise acutely toxic. The acute toxicity or short term poisoning effects of chemicals can be evaluated by the LD50 test that determines the lethal dose required to kill fifty percent of test animals, usually rats or mice. Microbial biotechnology products for use in industry have been subject to EPA review under TSCA since 1997. Over 70,000 chemicals were in use in the United States in 2002 according to the TSCA Chemical Substances Inventory.

Pesticides, and substances used in cosmetics, food, and drugs are regulated under other federal laws, but many chemicals, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were not subject to review or regulation until TSCA was passed. Studies showing PCBs to be dangerous to human health were an impetus for TSCA. In 1977 the EPA outlawed PCBs and subsequently regulated their disposal with strict safety requirements.

Amendments to TSCA in 1986, 1988, and 1992 were aimed at reducing the health threats from asbestos, radon, and lead exposure. The amendments required the EPA to test schools and federal buildings for radon contamination and establish state programs for monitoring and reducing lead exposure levels. The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Amendment (AHERA) imposed stricter standards on the reduction of asbestos contamination in schools.

Any person or company not complying with TSCA can be fined or jailed. Many landlords have been fined and required to remove lead-based paint as a result of TSCA's enforcement. In 2002 two landlords were also sentenced to prison terms for noncompliance.

In Europe regulations for assessing the safety of new chemical substances were established in 1981 and for all existing chemicals in 1993. In 2001 the European Commission proposed a new policy called "Strategy for a Future Chemicals Policy" aimed at determining the environmental risk posed by thousands of chemicals that came on the European market before 1981.


Internet Resources

EPA's New Chemical Program Web site. Available from .

European Commission Environment Web site. Available from .

Patricia Hemminger

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