Congress reaches deal to overhaul chemical regulation

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A bipartisan agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators would set safety standards for tens of thousands of chemicals that have gone unregulated for decades.

The bill would offer new protections for pregnant women, children, workers and others vulnerable to the effects of chemicals such as formaldehyde and styrene used in homes and businesses every day. The bill also would tighten restrictions on asbestos and other deadly chemicals.

The agreement announced Thursday merges bills that the House and Senate passed last year.

If enacted into law, it would be the first significant update to the Toxic Substances Control Act since the law was adopted in 1976.

The bill, more than three years in the making, has won the backing of both industry officials and some of the Capitol’s most liberal lawmakers, including Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Edward Markey, D-Mass.

The bill also has the support of conservative Republicans such as Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana and James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

“This is a political Halley’s comet” that may not be seen again for many years, Markey, a former opponent of the bill who signed onto it in recent weeks after changes were made to ensure states that regulate chemicals closely can continue to do so.

Markey called the bill “a special piece of legislation” that finally updates one of the major environmental laws approved during the 1970s.

The compromise bill is supported by groups ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to major environmental organizations and the Humane Society of the United States.

The chamber said in a statement that the measure “goes a long way to providing businesses with much-needed clarity and certainty by facilitating a more predictable federal regulatory program” for chemical regulation.

Richard Denison, a senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, called the bill a “significant victory for public health,” noting that it will require safety reviews for chemicals already in use and mandate greater scrutiny of new chemicals before they can be sold.

“While not perfect, this will be a dramatic improvement over current law,” Denison said.

Chemicals used in everyday products such as household cleaners, clothing and furniture have been linked to serious illnesses, including cancer, infertility, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

Under current law, only a small fraction of chemicals used in these products have been reviewed for safety.

Chemical regulation took on new urgency after a 2014 spill in West Virginia contaminated drinking water in that state.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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