Toxic Substances


ANNCR: The Toxic Substances Control Act – on Today's Congressional Moment.

In 1971, the President's Council on Environmental Quality issued a report titled “Toxic Substances”. It pointed to a sharp increase in the amount of potentially–dangerous chemicals entering the environment — from manufacturing and processsing — and a lack of government controls.

Yet Congressional action would take some time. The House and Senate each passed bills the next year to control toxic substances. But final action was delayed — by controversies over the scope of chemical screening and the costs of implementation. Proposed legislation required significant new regulation of the chemical industry — so, its main provisions would be hotly–debated for the next several years, by all the interested parties.

As the debate continued, several highly–publicized incidents of environmental contamination occurred, and scientific knowledge helped to clarify the threat of PCBs to waterways and the impact of chlorofluorocarbon emissions on ozone depletion.

More exact cost–estimates also helped to clear the final passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which was signed into law by President Ford on October 11, 1976. This act enabled the EPA to create a list of all chemicals used in manufacturing. The first version of this list — complied in 1979 — listed over 55,000 chemicals used in commerce. Today, that list of chemicals is estimated to be approaching 1 million.

STANDARD CLOSING: This is Lee Hamilton. Congressional decisions impact all our lives. To find out more about how Congress works, or to get involved in your government, visit the Center On Congress website at