CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lawmakers in Washington have reached agreement on a potential compromise to reform the way the nation regulates toxic chemicals, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is being credited with helping to forge the bipartisan deal.
The bill would, for the first time, require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review the safety of all chemicals used in commerce. Currently, the federal Toxic Substances Control Act allows the vast majority of chemicals to remain on the market without any evidence of their safety.
The EPA has tested only about 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in the agency's inventory.
The groundbreaking deal was reached between New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg, who, for years, has pushed a tough bill to modernize chemical protections, and Louisiana Republican David Vitter, who has been trying to build support for a more modest, industry-backed proposal.
"Our agreement shows that protecting our health and environment does not have to impede our economic growth," Manchin said in a prepared statement.
All sides generally agree that the existing law, known as TSCA, is outdated and isn't working well.
When Congress passed the law in 1976, tens of thousands of chemicals already being used were exempt from review. The EPA can call for testing of a chemical only if it shows evidence that the substance might be harmful.
In West Virginia, for example, the EPA has never finalized a draft risk assessment issued in 2005 for the DuPont Co. chemical C8, which has been linked to a variety of illnesses and polluted water supplies near the company's Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in March that, of just 83 chemicals the EPA has prioritized for risk assessment, the agency had initiated only seven of those assessments in 2012 and planned to start only 18 additional reviews this year.
When he announced earlier this year that he plans to retire, Lautenberg listed toxic-chemical safety reform as one of the issues he wanted to resolve before ending his three-decade career. However, the effort faced strong opposition from industry groups and Senate Republicans.
Lautenberg and Vitter announced their compromise bill Wednesday, and received immediate praise from both sides. Among the key provisions of the new bill:
• The EPA would review all active chemicals in commerce and label them as "high" or "low" priority based on potential risk to human health and the environment. Agency officials would be required to conduct additional safety reviews for high-priority substances.
• New chemicals entering the market must be screened, and the EPA is given authority to prohibit unsafe substances from entering the market.