WASHINGTON — A Senate committee voted Wednesday to overhaul a federal chemical safety law that critics claim is ineffective at keeping dangerous substances out of consumer products.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 10-8 to pass a bill by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., that would essentially re-write the 36-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. The changes would shift the burden on manufacturers to prove that chemicals used in products are safe rather than the current process in which federal environmental officials must prove they are unsafe.

The vote came one day after former Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree of North Haven and others urged Congress to update the law. Pingree, who is the daughter of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, was the lead sponsor of several bills in the Maine Legislature that banned the sale of mattresses and other products containing chemical flame retardants linked to health problems, especially in children.

“Today marks new exciting momentum for fixing our broken chemical law despite relentless attempts by the chemical industry to derail the process,” Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Maine-based Environmental Health Strategy Center, said in a statement.

Wednesday’s divided vote in committee indicates that the bill’s fate is far from assured, however, especially given the partisan atmosphere in Washington heading into the November elections. Although the House has already passed several bills aimed at reforming the TSCA, the two chambers controlled by different parties would have to broker a compromise if the Senate bill passes.

Maine’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, have called for reforming the law but have yet to commit to supporting Lautenberg’s bill.

“Clearly, the development of both original and improved products is central to growing our nation’s economy, and we must ensure that a new law would not unnecessarily outsource such activity to other countries,” Snowe said in a written statement. “I will continue to work with my colleagues to revise and modify Senator Lautenberg’s bill with bipartisan input to address these issues and ultimately produce legislation that ensures the safety of the American people while also being cost-effective for American entrepreneurs.”

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