Congress is nearing completion of a rewrite of the nation’s chemical regulations. The long overdue update takes important steps forward in giving the Environmental Protection Agency needed authority to regulate the tens of thousands of chemicals used in household products and manufacturing. But the legislation has a major flaw: It would pre-empt future state regulations.

The most important aspect of the new law is that it focuses on protecting the health of Americans. As simple as this sounds, the Toxic Substances Control Act, which went into effect in 1976, requires the EPA to consider the costs to businesses of changing the use of chemicals and to impose the “least burdensome” option when regulating a chemical. As a result, the EPA has been slow to regulate chemicals with known health dangers, such as asbestos.

This is remedied by giving the EPA the authority to act if it determines that a chemical or a specific use of a chemical poses an “unreasonable risk” to human health or the environment. This risk assessment can also be narrowly focused on vulnerable groups such as children or the elderly. If such risk is found, the EPA can initiate rulemaking to ban or limit the use of such chemicals.

The rewritten act, which is expected to face votes in the Senate later this week after passing in the House on Tuesday, requires the EPA to evaluate the safety of chemicals and sets deadlines for this work. Within three years, the agency must be reviewing the safety of 20 chemicals. Each review can take up to seven years. Under the proposed Toxic Substances Control Act rewrite, the EPA will have the authority to obtain testing and other data from chemical manufacturers to assess potential risks.

This may not sound like much, but in the last 40 years, the EPA has reviewed a tiny fraction of the more than 80,000 chemicals used in the country, and banned or restricted use of only five.

These are significant improvements, but preempting state action is problematic. Under this provision, states cannot enact new rules regarding any of the 20 chemicals that the EPA is reviewing. States can pass laws banning or limiting the use of chemicals that are not under EPA review and can require disclosure of the chemicals used in products sold in the state. Such a sweeping preemption of state regulation is unprecedented, and it may delay important rule changes that can save lives.

In the absence of federal action to protect people from chemicals such as BPA and fire retardants, lawmakers in Maine and other states have taken action to restrict these chemicals. That authority should not be taken away.

Lawmakers in Maine passed the Kid Safe Product Act in 2008. Under the act, chemicals of concern are identified and studied. BPA, which is used in can linings and to harden plastic, like that used to make sippy cups and refillable water bottles, was the first chemical investigated under the act. The use of BPA in infant formula and baby and toddler food packaging was banned by the Board of Environmental Protection starting in 2014.

Fire retardants also are of concern in many states. In addition to health risks to homeowners and their children, chemical flame retardants have been cited as a likely contributor to rising cancer rates among firefighters and paramedics. A bill to prohibit the sale of furniture containing fire retardant chemicals died in the Maine Legislature this year. The updated federal chemical law could preclude Maine lawmakers from acting on such legislation in the future.

On balance, the significant updates to the chemical act are a needed improvement over existing law and worthy of support in the Senate. But it is unfortunate that these improvements come at the expense of states no longer being empowered to act when the federal government fails to do so.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...