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Oral history interview of the toxic substances control act from the perspective of Glenn E. Schweitzer

  • 2010-Dec-29

Oral history interview of the toxic substances control act from the perspective of Glenn E. Schweitzer

  • 2010-Dec-29

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.

Glenn E. Schweitzer received his master’s degree in nuclear engineering. He began his career as a Foreign Service Officer, moved to the staff of the Vice President’s Marine Science and Technology Council, and finally accepted a position at the US Agency for International Development. He was then asked to manage the new Office of Toxic Substances (OTS) in the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1974. He had four tasks: to ensure that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) passed quickly; to deal with the “chemical of the month”; to help the Office of Air and Water deal with toxic chemicals under the their legislative authorities—the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act; and to upgrade data, especially testing data, being used throughout EPA.

Believing that the purpose of the OTS and TSCA was to prevent or reduce exposure to harmful chemicals, Schweitzer spent four years visiting producers to learn about their chemicals and relevant procedures. He insisted on the necessity of cost/benefit analysis because TSCA, which had been finalized but not yet passed by Congress, could have a potentially enormous impact on the US economy and on these companies. Schweitzer thought that TSCA was designed to fill regulatory gaps while providing data for use under many laws, using unreasonable risk as the principal criterion for action on chemicals. He thought that Section 8(e) was among the most important sections, as it put on manufacturers the burden of warning the EPA of health risks. This approach relies on conscientiousness but provides clear penalties for noncompliance.

Schweitzer’s staff supported the establishment and conduct of the Interagency Testing Committee (ITC), which included the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the EPA. The EPA’s role was to choose the many chemicals to be tested; ITC would arrange for steps to prioritize, test, and evaluate them. Schweitzer thought that EPA had an important but not decisive role in human health, but had a critical role in environmental matters. He regards as two successes the simultaneous regulation of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) aerosols by the EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the FDA beginning in 1977 which he led; and the persuasion of the producers of vinyl chloride to agree to reduce emissions by eighty percent in three months, and their achievements in doing so, a process that he arranged.

Shortly after TSCA became law, Schweitzer was sent to Cornell University to make way for political appointees at EPA. He spent two years revisiting chemical producers and found that EPA/TSCA had made a large difference; i.e. chemical companies had many more qualified people doing important testing and providing more effective oversight. He believes that this was an important aspect as to how TSCA should work. After Cornell, Schweitzer was appointed Director of EPA’s Environmental Monitoring Systems Laboratory in Las Vegas, Nevada. There he dealt with many complicated chemical exposure and risk issues, including acid rain; Love Canal; Three Mile Island; smelter problems in Dallas, Texas; dioxin contamination in Times Beach, Missouri; and potential nuclear threats at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. The laboratory also was responsible for quality assurance of measurements, which Schweitzer believes is crucial when monitoring contamination.

In general, Schweitzer thinks that Section 6 is sound in that it covers handling, transporting, and labeling of toxics, when necessary. He regrets that some officials wanted too many results too fast and thereby caused delays in passage and implementation of TSCA. Due to delays, many states and companies lost enthusiasm for cooperating with the EPA and introduced their own plans. His concern now is that great efforts will devoted to amending TSCA, primarily for the sake of amending the law, with little likelihood of success, whereas other measures are available to use more effectively the law as written.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 25 pages
  • 1h 18m 45s
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

Jody A. Roberts served as the Director of the Institute for Research at the Science History Institute. He received his PhD and MS in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and holds a BS in chemistry from Saint Vincent College. His research focuses on the intersections of regulation, innovation, environmental issues, and emerging technologies within the chemical sciences.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0687
Physical container
  • Shelfmark KF3864 .S394589 2010

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

Professional Experience

United States. Department of State

  • 1963 to 1966 Science Officer, Moscow, Russia

United States. Office of the Vice President

  • 1966 to 1970 Marine Science and Technology Council

United States. Agency for International Development

  • 1970 to 1972 Director, Office of Science and Technology

United States. Environmental Protection Agency

  • 1973 to 1977 Director, Office of Toxic Substances
  • 1980 to 1985 Director, Environmental Monitoring Systems Laboratory

Cornell University

  • 1977 to 1980 Senior Research Fellow for Environmental and International Affairs

National Research Council (U.S.)

  • 1985 to 2011 Director, Program on Central Europe and Eurasia

International Science and Technology Center

  • 1992 to 1994 Executive Director

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PDF — 354 KB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Audio File Web-quality download

1 Interview Segment Archival-quality download