President Barack Obama signs chemical safety bill into law _lowres

President Barack Obama signed Wednesday the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more oversight and more authority to monitor and test chemicals. (Photo provided by the Office of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.)

U.S. Sen. David Vitter visited the White House on Wednesday to witness the signing into law of sweeping legislation that requires safety reviews of all chemicals in active commerce — from household cleaners to mattresses to plastics.

Vitter, of Metairie, was the lead Republican co-sponsor of the legislation that updates the Toxic Substances Control Act, which became law in the mid-1970s. It was the last of a series of environmental bills that addressed clean water and air and created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But the toxic substances law didn’t work as well as some of the other environmental measures.

“The law placed demands on the EPA that were so tough, so onerous, that it became virtually impossible to actually see if those chemicals were harming anybody,” Obama said during the bill signing ceremony. “In fact, out of those original 62,000 chemicals, only five have been banned.”

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act gives the EPA more oversight and more authority to monitor and test chemicals.

Testing will use a health-based standard rather than the existing “cost-benefit safety standard,” which had kept the EPA from banning asbestos, a known carcinogen. While making it more difficult for industry to keep chemical information secret, the measure also clarifies a patchwork of state rules that have grown up over 40 years leading to vastly different regulatory standards across the nation.

“For the first time in our history, we’ll actually be able to regulate chemicals effectively. And we’re doing it in the same, overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion,” the president said.

Vitter worked with the late U.S. Sen. Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, back in 2013 and cosponsored the legislation with Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, of New Mexico.

A number of lawmakers from both parties signed on, and the legislation was supported by industry and environmental groups.

Vitter’s hand was the first one shaken by Obama after the president hugged U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

“Cynics will say there’s no bipartisanship in Washington — well, today, we’ve proved them wrong,” Vitter said in a prepared statement after the ceremony.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB.