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The Toxic Substances Control Act:
from the perspective of Charles F. Lettow

  • Born: 1941, Iowa Falls, Iowa

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0656
Interview Date: April 23, 2010
Location: U.S. Federal Court of Claims, Washington, D.C.
Interviewers: Jody A. Roberts and Kavita D. Hardy
No. of pages: 38
Minutes: 70

  Abstract of Interview

Charles F. Lettow grew up as a “Sputnik kid,” choosing to study chemical engineering as an undergraduate.  He held one job in the chemical industry before serving in the U.S. Army; after his military service he moved into the field of law.  He undertook two clerkships, one with the Hon. Benjamin C. Duniway and one with the Hon. Warren E. Burger, and he was then invited to work for the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.  There he was involved in the creation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several environmental laws, including the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  He and J. Clarence Davies used the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as their primary model for writing a toxics law that would include both a premarket review and imminent hazard provision.  According to Lettow, the law was intentionally not prescriptive in order to give the EPA the flexibility to adapt to innovations, changing uses of materials, and new knowledge about materials.  Because of the multifunctional nature of chemicals, they opted for a use restriction provision rather than an FDA-style approval process.  

At the end of the interview Lettow discusses his belief that the law should have been workable with a creative bureaucracy.  He also talks about the debates surrounding the issues of preemption, citizen suits, judicial review, penalties, administrative searches, and confidentiality.  While the law underwent changes during the Congressional debates, Lettow believes it was not substantially different from his and Davies’s draft.  


1962 B.S., Chemical Engineering, Iowa State University
1968 LL.B. Stanford University
2001 A.M., History, Brown University

  Professional Experience

Proctor & Gamble, Co., Cincinnati, Ohio

1962 - 1963

Engineer, Soap Products Research Department

U.S. Army, 3rd Infantry Division, Germany

1963 - 1965

2nd Lt., 1st Lt.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, San Francisco, California

1968 - 1969

Law Clerk to Benjamin C. Duniway

U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D.C.

1969 - 1970

Law Clerk to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger

Council on Environmental Quality, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C.

1970 - 1973


Cleary, Gottleib, Steen & Hamilton, LLP, Washington, D.C.

1973 - 1976


Cleary, Gottleib, Steen & Hamilton, LLP, Washington, D.C.

1976 - 2003


U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Washington, D.C.

2003 - present


  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early career 1

Chemical engineering.  Law school.  Federal-state relations.  Law clerkships.  President’s Council on Environmental Quality.  Creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Drafting the Toxic Substances Control Act 5

Legal models.  Premarketing review.  Imminent hazard provision.  Not prescriptive.

Implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act 9

Utility of ambiguity. Need for conceptual vision.  Other legislative models.  Use restrictions.

Interagency Negotiations 18

Office of Management and Budget approval.  Preemption.  Citizen suits.  Judicial review.  Penalties.  Confidentiality.  Responsibility for testing.  Not impeding technological innovation.

Index 31

  About the Interviewer

Jody A. Roberts

Jody A. Roberts is the Director of the Institute for Research at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. 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.

Kavita D. Hardy

Kavita D. Hardy is a research assistant in the Environmental History and Policy Program at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. She received a B.A. in Chemistry and in Economics from Swarthmore College.

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