Hazardous Substances Labeling Act Is Signed Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Hazardous Substances Labeling Act, which required hazardous and potentially dangerous substances packaged for home use to have warning labels and expanded notions about the appropriate level of government regulation and oversight of private commerce.

Summary of Event

The Hazardous Substances Labeling Act (HSLA) authorized the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, U.S.;warning labels (HEW) to require labeling on packaged household substances that were toxic, corrosive, flammable, irritating, strongly sensitizing, or pressure-generating. Such substances had not been covered by previous legislation, including the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (1938) and its amendments and the 1947 Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (1947) . The HSLA was the first legislation in a decade-long push to regulate consumer protection Consumer rights that included, in 1966, major amendments to the act itself. These amendments drastically expanded the scope of the HSLA and changed its name to the Hazardous Substances Act Hazardous Substances Act (1966) . Hazardous Substances Labeling Act (1960) Hazardous materials Warning labels Commerce, government regulation of Consumer rights [kw]Hazardous Substances Labeling Act Is Signed (July 12, 1960) [kw]Labeling Act Is Signed, Hazardous Substances (July 12, 1960) [kw]Act Is Signed, Hazardous Substances Labeling (July 12, 1960) Hazardous Substances Labeling Act (1960) Hazardous materials Warning labels Commerce, government regulation of Consumer rights [g]North America;July 12, 1960: Hazardous Substances Labeling Act Is Signed[06610] [g]United States;July 12, 1960: Hazardous Substances Labeling Act Is Signed[06610] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;July 12, 1960: Hazardous Substances Labeling Act Is Signed[06610] [c]Health and medicine;July 12, 1960: Hazardous Substances Labeling Act Is Signed[06610] [c]Trade and commerce;July 12, 1960: Hazardous Substances Labeling Act Is Signed[06610] [c]Manufacturing and industry;July 12, 1960: Hazardous Substances Labeling Act Is Signed[06610] Delaney, James Joseph Kefauver, Estes Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;and business[business] Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;consumer rights

Throughout most of U.S. history, evaluating product safety had been the buyer’s responsibility, not the government’s. In a largely agrarian society, in which most household products were made either at home or locally, such an approach was, for the most part, workable. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, as American society became more industrialized and urban, and as previously unknown chemical additives and preservatives were being developed and more widely used, the approach became problematic.

In part because of public reaction to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle Jungle, The (Sinclair) (1906) and scandals involving the food industry and dangerous drugs and chemicals, the federal government began, for the first time, to assume limited responsibility for protecting the public from dangerous foods, drugs, and other products. Major legislation passed before World War II included the Biologics Control Act of 1902, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the Meat Inspection Act of 1907, the Insecticide Act of 1910, and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (FDCA).

After World War II, a number of factors combined to cause legislators to question the adequacy of these laws. Perhaps most important were the countless new chemical compounds and atomic substances discovered by wartime researchers. Legislation current at the time could not begin to regulate these potentially dangerous materials. Further developments underscoring the need to evaluate existing product safety included a large increase in processed foods, several health scares involving chemicals and drugs, and an awareness, after years of experience with the legislation in force, of gaps and weaknesses in existing controls. Immediate action resulted in the Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act of 1947 and a number of amendments to the FDCA.

In 1950, Congress convened the House Select Committee to Investigate the Use of Chemicals in Foods and Cosmetics House Select Committee to Investigate the Use of Chemicals in Foods and Cosmetics . Headed by the Democrat James Joseph Delaney of New York, the committee issued its findings and recommendations in 1952. These recommendations, combined with cancer scares of the 1950’s, contributed to public awareness of dangerous products and created an environment sympathetic to additional protective legislation.

Introduced to Congress on March 5, 1959, the HSLA supplemented the Caustic Poison Act of 1927, which had required warning labels on only twelve hazardous substances. By 1960, however, an estimated 300,000 common household products existed that contained dangerous substances but did not require such labels. In the face of Senate committee estimates that five thousand children were dying yearly after ingesting unmarked household products, the bill received strong backing from many influential organizations, including the American Medical Association, the Manufacturing Chemists’ Association, and the Public Health Service. The Senate passed the bill on March 28, 1960, and the House passed an amended version on June 24, 1960. After approving the House amendments on June 24, 1960, the Senate forwarded the bill to President Dwight D. Eisenhower for his signature, which it received on July 12.

The law, which was administered by the Food and Drug Administration Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the auspices of HEW, banned from interstate commerce all unlabeled household products it defined as hazardous. It further required that prominent warning labels on all such hazardous products include the following: the name of the manufacturer; the common name of each toxic component; the signal word “danger” on products defined as flammable, corrosive, or highly toxic, and the word “warning” or “caution” as signals on all other hazardous materials; a specific descriptive warning such as “flammable,” or “causes burns”; the word “poison” on all highly toxic substances; first-aid and storage and handling instructions; and the statement “keep out of reach of children.” Although the law became effective immediately, manufacturers had until February, 1961, to comply. After that date, products not adequately labeled could be declared “misbranded” and were liable to seizure. Penalties for manufacturers who failed to comply included up to $3,000 in fines and prison terms of up to one year.

Critics pointed out that the law did not provide for a centralized agency to test products to determine if they were hazardous, nor were manufacturers required to submit products and their accompanying labels to the FDA before marketing them. This oversight, they warned, would allow unscrupulous or underinformed manufacturers to sell dangerous products to the unsuspecting public. Only if the FDA learned of the product after it was on the market and then proved it was dangerous enough to be covered by the HSLA, could it move to force the manufacturer to add proper labeling or withdraw the product. Furthermore, no matter how dangerous a product was, a substance covered by the HSLA could not be banned from the market if it was properly labeled. Despite these weaknesses, most consumer protection advocates applauded the HSLA as a step in the right direction and used it as a springboard for more comprehensive legislation.


In his 1964 consumer interest message, President Lyndon B. Johnson claimed that consumer rights should include the right to safety, information, and choice, as well as the right to be heard. Johnson believed that these rights should be established by legislation and protected by the courts. He was not alone in these beliefs. In part because of precedents set by legislation such as the HSLA and in part because of consumer demand, lawmakers were becoming advocates for the consumer. Government officials dedicated to consumer protection included Estes Kefauver, who chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly; Arthur Flemming Flemming, Arthur , secretary of HEW, who championed consumer rights; and senators Philip Hart, Paul Douglas, Gaylord Nelson, and Warren Magnuson and congressman Kenneth Roberts, all of whom sponsored some form of consumer-protection legislation, ranging from truth in lending to tire safety.

President Johnson continued to champion consumer rights in a second message delivered on March 21, 1966. Several of his recommendations addressed the weaknesses of the HSLA. Johnson called for legislation that would broaden the HSLA to include all hazardous substances, ban household substances so dangerous that warning labels would not provide adequate safeguards, and forbid sale of hazardous toys and other dangerous items marketed for children. Johnson also endorsed legislation that would require warning labels on pressurized containers, decrease amounts of children’s aspirin in packages intended for home use, and mandate safety caps on certain patent drugs.

Largely in response to the president’s message, Congress enacted the Child Protection Act Child Protection Act (1966) , which amended the HSLA in a number of ways. The bill, which was signed into law in November, 1966, included many of the president’s recommendations. It amended the 1960 HSLA by allowing the FDA to ban from interstate commerce substances that it deemed so dangerous that, despite the presence of a warning label, public health and safety could not be protected. The amendments also expanded coverage of the law by requiring that unpackaged hazardous substances have warning labels attached in some way to the article in question and by redefining items covered to include toys or other articles intended for children. Upon passage, the new law (Public Law 89-756) became the Hazardous Substances Act (HSA); the word “labeling” was deleted to reflect the revised law’s broader scope.

While the new law addressed many of the weaknesses exposed by critics of the HSLA, it excluded President Johnson’s recommendations dealing with children’s aspirin, safety caps on drugs, and pressurized cans. The drug industry, strongly opposed to these requests, had asked Congress for time to deal voluntarily with the problems they posed. In November, 1966, the same month the Hazardous Substances Act became law, the FDA reached an agreement with drug-industry representatives on the children’s aspirin question. Beginning June 1, 1967, packages of children’s aspirin intended for home use could contain no more than thirty-six tablets, and each individual tablet was limited to 1.25 grains of aspirin. This agreement was not part of the amendments to the HSLA, but it was reached largely because of the precedent the 1960 law had set and the pressure it and similar laws had brought to bear on the drug industry.

Because of the HSLA, the HSA, the aspirin-packaging agreement, and subsequent related legislation (including the 1973 requirement that all drugs and medications have childproof packaging), consumer prices rose in response to the more stringent packaging requirements. The legislation did, however, save lives. After 1960, for example, poisoning deaths among children under five years of age decreased dramatically. In 1960, the year the HSLA was passed, 2.2 children per 100,000 had died from poisoning in the United States. By 1988, that rate had dropped to 0.2 per 100,000. Banning dangerous toys such as those with small parts that could cause choking or suffocation also helped prevent injury and death among children.

Consumer legislation passed in the 1960’s and 1970’s formed the bedrock of consumer protection in the United States. Beginning with the HSLA in 1960, this legislation included the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (1966) of 1966, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act Poison Prevention Packaging Act (1970) of 1970, the Consumer Product Safety Act Consumer Product Safety Act (1972) of 1972, and the Consumer Product Warranty Act Consumer Product Warranty Act (1975) of 1975. In 1972, as a result of the focus on consumer issues, Congress established the Consumer Product Safety Commission Consumer Product Safety Commission . Made up of five members appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, the commission was charged with protecting the public from potentially dangerous products. Such legislation, combined with strong public sentiment in its favor, helped keep consumerism a strong force in U.S. politics. Hazardous Substances Labeling Act (1960) Hazardous materials Warning labels Commerce, government regulation of Consumer rights

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Asch, Peter. Consumer Safety Regulation: Putting a Price on Life and Limb. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Evaluates both the costs and benefits of consumer safety programs in the United States. Helps place the Hazardous Substances Labeling Act in context. Thoroughly documented. Includes an extensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Congressional Quarterly, Inc. Congress and the Nation. Washington, D.C.: Author, 1965. Each of the first five volumes of this series includes a chapter on consumer issues. Together these chapters provide a thorough, cogent overview of the federal government’s role in the consumer protection movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Ample cross-references.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Evans, Joel R., ed. Consumerism in the United States. New York: Praeger, 1980. Examines consumerism in ten industries including household products. Includes a history of the movement and analyzes government action, industry responses, and the effects of consumerism on each industry in question. Each chapter includes a lengthy bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morganstern, Stanley. Legal Protection for the Consumer. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1978. Discusses consumer legislation in the various states in relation to federal law in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Of supplemental interest.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pertschuk, Michael. Revolt Against Regulation: The Rise and Pause of the Consumer Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. Pertschuk, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission when this book was published, details the interaction of the government, the private sector, citizens, and others from the beginning of the consumer movement in the 1960’s to the beginning of deregulation in the 1980’s. The first chapter focuses on legislative action in the 1960’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sprankling, John G., and Gregory S. Weber. The Law of Hazardous Wastes and Toxic Substances in a Nutshell. St. Paul, Minn.: West, 1997. Comprehensive guide to all aspects of U.S. hazardous-substance and hazardous-waste laws. Index.

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Categories: History