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Proposed Overhaul of Toxic Chemical Act Supported by Manchin, Capito, But Not Everyone Else

Cecelia Mason
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Both of West Virginia’s Senators, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Shelley Moore Capito, are co-sponsors of a piece of legislation that would rewrite the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. 

Many believe that the bill has enough bipartisan support to actually pass through Congress. But many are also questioning if the bipartisan compromise has resulted in a bill that might make an already toxic status quo worse.

The newly proposed federal legislation is meant to protect public health from toxic chemicals in a number of ways.

  • It tries to ensure that cost considerations are not factors when determining if a chemical is safe or not.
  • It also attempts to define and extend protections to “vulnerable populations”.
  • The bill would require chemicals to have more stringent evaluations from the Environmental Protection Agency,
  • and new chemicals can’t be manufactured before that agency approves them.


During an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing last week in Washington, Senator Capito pointed to last year’s Freedom Industries spill in Charleston as a prime example of why the Toxic Substances Control Act, or “Tosca” needs to be reformed.

Last year more than 300,000 residents in West Virginia went days without access to clean water after a chemical leak into the Elk River. At the time of the spill it was almost entirely unknown how the chemical that leaked into drinking water supplies, Crude MCHM, would affect exposed populations. It’s not the only chemical that the public really doesn’t know a lot about. Thousands of other under-studied chemicals exist and are permitted to go to market under the current chemical law.


Senator Manchin has been a proponent for the chemical reform bill since its introduction in 2013. He first testified in support of the bill two years ago saying that he knew it wasn’t a perfect bill, but that he fervently believed it would improve the status quo.

Bipartisan Politics

Today the bill has support from nine Republicans and eight Democrats. The strong bipartisan support makes any chance of passage significantly more likely. Some environmental groups say the Toxic Substances Control Act is so outdated that getting any reform passed is a step in the right direction.


Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California has teamed with the democratic senator from Massachusetts, Ed Markey, in drafting a competing bill that would extend more health protections, but that bill has no Republican support. Among the issues Boxer and Markey, as well as a substantial collection of other groups, take with Manchin and Capito’s bill are revisions to the existing chemical law that would preempt state laws.

Senator Barbara Boxer a prominent member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, spoke during the hearing on the matter last week.

"I've never seen, in all the years I've been here, such opposition to legislation," Boxer said.

Boxer and others explained that the new bill stipulates that once the EPA would deem a chemical a “High Priority,” states would have to wait for that agency to regulate the chemical—a process that could take years. Opponents like Boxer argue that chemical manufacturers could stave off regulation indefinitely in this way.

Industry Ties?

Neither Manchin nor Capito responded definitively to questions last week about whether they would support any changes to the legislation as proposed currently. Both have strong ties to the petrochemical industry and are the top recipients of chemical industry campaign contributions, according to data collected by the Federal Election Commission.

The bill to overhaul the existing 40-year-old chemical law remains in the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee for the time being.


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