Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Overview
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on October, 11th 1976. The goal in passing this legislation was to mitigate and control the risks of toxic industrial chemicals that could cause a possible risk to public health or the environment.
Shortly after the bill was enacted by congress, older toxic chemicals were grandfathered into the bill, and since that time, the EPA is constantly testing the toxicity of newer substances for inclusion in the act’s list of regulated chemicals.
But among the over 75,000 different industrial chemicals currently produced in the United States today, there are three main chemicals that are most often associated with the Toxic Substances Control Act. These are polychlorinated biphenyls (PBCs), asbestos, and lead-based paint.
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
PCBs are part of a family of man-made organic compounds called chlorinated hydrocarbons. PCBs vary in consistency from light-colored liquids to black, wax-like solids, and can range in toxicity.
Before 1979—when their domestic manufacture was banned—PCBs were used in everything from dielectric fluid to hydraulic equipment to plasticizers in paints. Many pigments, dyes, and rubber products were also comprised in part by PCBs.
Although the ban on commercial manufacturing of PCBs has been in effect for over 35 years, PCBs may still be present in products or equipment made pre-1979. The storage, proper labeling, and disposal of PCB-containing waste materials, even in small quantities, are all regulated by the Toxic Substances Control Act.
For instance, liquid PCBs that have a concentration of greater than 500 parts per million (PPM) must be disposed of in a TSCA-approved incinerator. The potentially extreme toxicity of PCBs and their deleterious effect on the environment was one of the main reasons the Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral made up of tiny fibers that are highly heat-resistant. These durable, tough fibers make asbestos useful as insulation and in the construction industry, but they are also the reason asbestos is so dangerous. These fibers can be microscopic in size and, when inhaled, remain in the lungs and body. Enough build up of asbestos fibers in the body can lead to certain diseases, such as asbestosis or lung cancer.
The EPA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and some state agencies regulate the use, disposal, and abatement of asbestos. But TSCA also has its own program regarding the rules of asbestos use in schools, hospitals, and public and commercial buildings.
Called the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), the program requires specific management plans, proper removal and handling practices, and sets emissions limits for these types of buildings.
The use of lead-based paint was banned by the EPA in 1978, after a period of research on its public health dangers. Lead exposure is especially precarious for children, usually through contact with chipped lead-based paint or lead-contaminated dust inside homes and lead-contaminated soil in yards.
Cumulative exposure can result in lead poisoning, which can cause long-term cognitive and health problems. Lead has been found to be a possible human carcinogen.
Because of these dangers, the Toxic Substances Control Act promulgates many lead-based paint regulations, including poison prevention, lead abatement, and disclosure programs.
Most of these rules apply to homes or buildings built prior to 1978. Training and certification are required for all lead-based paint activities in these buildings, including repair, renovation, and re-painting. Potential buyers or renters of homes must be informed, under TSCA, of the lead hazards inherent in homes built before the EPA’s ban on the substance.
In 2001, the EPA released the Hazard Standards for Lead in Paint, Dust and Soil rule, which was designed to aid in the identification of lead hazards in residential paint, soil, and dust. This rule set standards for the concentrations of lead present in homes, as well as made the reporting of lead hazards obligatory.
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