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Oral history interview of the toxic substances control act from the perspective of Victor J. Kimm

  • 2011-Feb-03

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.

Victor J. Kimm received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil (then sanitary) engineering. When President John F. Kennedy asked what Americans could do for their country, Kimm decided to volunteer in Latin America. After three years there he spent two years in Washington, DC, working with labor unions. Then he went to work at the Economic Development Administration, receiving a one-year fellowship from Princeton University. Through a Princeton faculty member Kimm obtained a senior post at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation. He worked on the Safe Drinking Water Act and promoted the states’ efforts to qualify for delegation of implementation responsibilities. He became Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances (OPTS). There he oversaw chemical regulation, resulting in reregistration and the modernizing of outdated protocols. During his ten years as Deputy Assistant Administrator, OPTS was responsible for implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Office regarded asbestos as the most likely pollutant to establish standards for implementing TSCA Section 6, but it failed the “least burdensome” requirement, in subsequent judicial review. Kimm laments a lack of an appeal by the Department of Justice for the apparent gutting of EPA’s authority to ban substances in products under section 6 of TSCA.

Kimm discusses risk assessment (hazard, risk, cost) and risk management (“how high can you jump”) in TSCA and adds his own third aspect, risk communications. He praises OPPTS (Office of Pollution, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, which replaced OPTS), its scientists, and its innovations like health advisories and Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). He discusses the hobbling of regulation by poorly-designed laws like the Delaney Clause. He laments the complexity of regulation that leads to inconsistent standards for chemical tolerances and that results in an inability to foster the public interest. He believes that TSCA would be more effective if confidential business information (CBI) exemption were limited and if severer penalties could be levied for not informing the EPA of knowledge of possible harmful chemicals. He hopes for more resources from Congress and for greater emphasis on alternatives to dangerous substances.

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