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Oral history interview of the toxic substances control act from the perspective of Marilyn C. Bracken

  • 2010-Mar-05

This oral history is one in a series that looks at the history of the Toxic Substances Control Act from the perspectives of the individuals involved in its creation, implementation, and execution.

Marilyn C. Bracken’s oral history interview begins with a discussion about the relationship between her family life and early career. Once Bracken became a mother, she transitioned out of the laboratory and began pursuing graduate work in information science. She worked for and with several government agencies before joining EPA’s Office of Toxic Substances as the deputy assistant administrator (DAA) for program information and toxic integration. Her responsibilities in program information included creating the TSCA Inventory, where the office decided to use the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) to assign unique identities to chemicals. She was also involved in developing Section 8 rules, and supporting industry efforts to develop internal reporting mechanisms. Internationally, she participated in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) discussions to facilitate data sharing and develop a “base set” of data for new chemicals. As the DAA for toxic integration, Bracken was responsible for facilitating interagency and intra-agency data sharing. From Bracken’s perspective, EPA’s culture of stovepiping, a lack of coordination throughout the administration, and procedural burdens within TSCA severely hampered any effort to create a holistic chemicals regulation policy, and Congress was critical of EPA’s performance. After the change in administration and the arrival of Anne M. Gorsuch as administrator, Bracken left the EPA because of the lack of administrative support.

Bracken believes that TSCA was unique in its authority to be a regulatory catchall with the ability to prevent pollution before it happened. She emphasized the role that access to information, both by the government and the public, plays in effectively carrying out that authority. She discussed the challenge that nanotechnology presents to the CAS system of chemical identity that she developed. Bracken argues that the procedural burdens to EPA action must also be addressed in a TSCA reform process, specifically proving “unreasonable risk” and the limitations around confidential business information (CBI). She concludes with a discussion of the changing language of “safety,” and the significance of the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances changing its name to the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

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