WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday gave final approval to an overhaul of the nation’s 40-year-old law governing the use of toxic chemicals in homes and businesses, sending the bill to President Obama for his expected signature.
The Senate passed the measure on a voice vote; the House approved it last month, 403 to 12. The measure would update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, requiring new testing and regulation of thousands of chemicals used in everyday products as varied as laundry detergents and car seats. However, some public health and environmental advocates have criticized the legislation, saying that while it slightly strengthens the existing law, the bill’s authors ceded too much to chemical companies.
Public health advocates and environmentalists complained for decades that the 1976 law was outdated and riddled with gaps that left Americans exposed to harmful chemicals. Under current law, around 64,000 chemicals are not subject to environmental testing or regulation.
But efforts to tighten the law had stalled for years. The authors of the bill say their breakthrough represents a pragmatic, politically viable compromise between better environmental standards and the demands of industry. Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, worked closely with the American Chemistry Council to come up with language that would win the support of the industry and pass through the generally regulation-averse Republican Congress.
The new bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency to begin conducting tests on those 64,000 chemicals, but at a fairly slow pace: the agency would examine about 20 chemicals at a time, with a deadline of seven years per chemical. It would also allow the agency’s regulations to pre-empt stronger state-level rules.
Environmental groups had pushed for an earlier iteration of the bill, which would have required the E.P.A. to test more than 100 existing chemicals a year, and which would have allowed states to enact stronger regulations.