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Regulating Toxic Chemicals

- July 18, 2014
Do hazardous substances need stricter oversight?
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After a leak from a chemical storage tank contaminated the Charleston, W. Va., water supply this year, many experts contended that U.S. chemical plants and refineries need stricter regulation. But industry representatives assert that chemical companies have an excellent safety record and that government should focus on helping all companies comply with existing regulations. The West Virginia incident revealed lax state enforcement of federal laws designed to protect the nation's waterways from chemical contamination. Current law assumes that the thousands of chemicals widely used in commerce are safe unless the government shows otherwise. The approach puts the burden of proof on regulators, who have banned only five toxic chemicals in nearly 40 years. Health and environmental advocates want a more precautionary approach, similar to Europe's policy, in which manufacturers must show that chemicals introduced to the market can be used safely. Meanwhile, scientists are finding new evidence that some potentially harmful industrial chemicals are more widespread throughout the environment than previously thought.

Congress and TSCA

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Safety Board Controversy

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New Questions

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1906-1958U.S. begins regulating consumer goods to protect buyers from unsafe products, but has little control over workplace safety.
1970-1978Congress creates new agencies to protect consumers and workers from hazardous substances.
1980-2000New concerns emerge about chemicals, including special risks to children.
2005-2014Health and environmental advocates lobby for tighter regulations.

Should “inherent safety” be required for chemical plants?


Rafael Moure-Eraso
Chairman, U.S. Chemical Safety Board.


Lawrence D. Sloan
President and CEO, Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates.
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