HARRISBURG, Pa. – A bill to significantly strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act should soon be law across the country.

The 1976 law made it almost impossible to evaluate the safety and control the use of the more than 80,000 chemicals sold in the United States.

In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has adequately tested only about 200.

Eve Gartner, an attorney at Earthjustice, says the reforms that passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday will be a huge improvement.

“EPA now has much broader authority to require the testing of those chemicals, and then to actually regulate those chemicals if it concludes that they pose risks,” she states.

The bill passed the House with only 12 dissenting votes and is expected to get unanimous approval in the Senate. President Barack Obama has said he will sign it into law.

Until now, the rule making process to test a single chemical could take up to five years. Gartner points out that the EPA spent 10 years fighting to ban asbestos, only to be turned back by the courts.

“And after that, EPA essentially gave up and said if we can’t even ban asbestos, a known toxin, and if the courts aren’t going to give us deference that this chemical should be banned, we just can’t use this statute,” Gartner relates.

The reform bill, a compromise between House and Senate versions, requires the EPA to test 10 chemicals a year, expanding to 20 as protocols are established.

That a bill expanding the authority of the EPA to regulate chemicals passed with so little opposition in a sharply divided Congress may seem remarkable.

But Gartner notes that everyone, from consumers to the chemical industry itself, has a stake in making the bill law.

“We hear day in and day out of the dangers of BPA (Bisphonol A), the dangers of phthalates, the dangers of flame retardants, and those are real,” she points out. “The chemical industry wants EPA to have the power to say that a chemical is either safe or not safe.”

The bill also will require a safety review before new chemicals are allowed on the market.