Identifying and Regulating Priority Chemicals
Chemicals are emitted by a wide array of products used indoors—from buildings materials and furnishings to household products and office equipment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), concentrations of many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) “are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors." EPA, An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality. In its 2005 report Indoor Air Pollution in California, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) discussed a wide range of adverse health impacts associated with indoor chemical exposures, including irritant effects, allergic reactions, respiratory disease, developmental effects, organ damage, and cancer. At the same time, the report noted that “[s]cientific study has only touched the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in understanding all VOCs in indoor air.”
The principal federal law governing chemicals management in the U.S. is the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), implemented by EPA. The law establishes a number of mechanisms for managing chemical risks, including screening new chemicals, testing existing chemicals, and restricting activities involving substances that present “unreasonable” health or environmental risks. Nonetheless, TSCA’s practical limitations are widely acknowledged. According to EPA, the agency has been able to require testing on just over 200 of the 84,000 chemicals listed on the TSCA Inventory, and has issued rules to ban or limit only five chemicals deemed to pose an unreasonable risk. The Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) has enacted a Resolution calling for reform of TSCA, noting that “legal and procedural hurdles under TSCA prevent the U.S. EPA from taking quick and effective regulatory action to protect the public against well-known risks...." Recent efforts to strengthen federal chemicals management include the introduction of TSCA reform legislation in Congress and EPA’s issuance of “chemical action plans” that target risk management efforts on several chemicals of concern.
State policy is playing an increasingly important role in reducing indoor chemical exposures. Many states have enacted laws requiring the adoption of integrated pest management practices or requiring the use of green cleaning products and practices. In recent years, a considerable number of states have enacted laws or regulations restricting the use of specific chemicals in products, including policies addressing formaldehyde, PBDEs (flame retardants), phthalates, and bisphenol A.
This Policy Brief focuses on state laws that have established broader policy frameworks for managing chemical risks by requiring the identification and prioritization of chemicals of concern. Some of the laws also establish provisions for: considering safer alternatives to priority chemicals; requiring manufacturer reporting on the use of priority chemicals; banning or restricting the use of particular priority chemicals; and promoting information exchange and research on priority chemicals. The laws in four states—Connecticut, Maine, Washington and Vermont—address primarily chemicals in children’s products. California’s law is being implemented as part of a broad Green Chemistry initiative. Watch for updates to this page as these laws are implemented and new state laws are enacted.
Last Updated: June 2014