Senate Passes Landmark, Merkley-Backed Bill to Reform Toxic Chemical Safety in the U.S.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a bipartisan vote, the United States Senate passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, landmark legislation that marks the first major update to toxic chemical safety in the United States in 40 years.

Merkley worked with a bipartisan coalition to craft the U.S. Senate version of the bill that passed in December 2015, and served as a key negotiator in the House-Senate discussions that produced the bill that passed the Senate today. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month and will now go to the President’s desk for his signature.

“It is outrageous that the most powerful nation on earth has been powerless to protect its own citizens from harmful chemicals,” said Merkley. “For decades, Americans have been at risk because there is no watchdog empowered to make sure chemicals in our everyday products are safe before they end up in our classrooms, our workplaces, and our homes. Today marks a sea shift in which we begin to change all of that. The passage of this bill has taken enormous bipartisan effort and compromise, and I am grateful to all of the people who have worked so hard to get this bill across the finish line. Today is a momentous day that puts us just one signature away from a monumental improvement in our toxic chemical safety laws.”

The federal government’s power to protect Americans from toxic chemicals in everyday products and manufacturing processes has been hamstrung for decades by weak laws and a 1991 court ruling that gutted the Toxic Substances Control Act. Most Americans believe that the chemicals in the products that they use and keep in their homes have been tested for safety and approved, but in many cases, this is not true. 

Last year, Merkley partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund to highlight results from a study in which participants wore a simple silicone wristband for a week. This wristband acted as a sponge and absorbed chemicals found in the air, water, and personal care products. The results showed that all of the participants, even those who went out of their way to buy safe and natural products, were exposed to dangerous chemicals that could have drastic effects on human health.

Specifically, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act will:

  • Require the EPA to protect the most vulnerable people: children, the elderly, pregnant women, and chemical workers.
  • Give the EPA new authority to order testing and ensure chemicals are safe, with a focus on the most risky chemicals, such as known carcinogens and those with high toxicity.
  • Ensure the EPA reviews new chemicals before they go on the market.
  • Provide the EPA with resources to do its job and require that industry do its share to support the program — providing $25 million a year.
  • Set mandatory, enforceable deadlines for the EPA to act.
  • Allow all states multiple ways to act on chemicals, including: options for state co-enforcement; unfettered authority on chemicals on which the EPA is not acting; and waivers from federal preemption even when the EPA has acted to restrict a chemical.