Thursday, December 31, 2009
For the first time EPA has used TSCA's existing authority to list chemicals that "may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health and the environment." Following up on Steve Owens' and Lisa Jackson's "commitment to strengthen and reform chemical management, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a series of actions on four chemicals raising serious health or environmental concerns, including phthalates."
The four chemicals are:
Short-chain chlorinated paraffins
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
Perfluorinated chemicals (including PFOA)
The action plans summarize available hazard, exposure, and use information; outline the risks that each chemical may present; and identify the specific steps the Agency intends to address those concerns.
The actions announced include:
· Adding phthalates and PBDE chemicals to the concern list.
· Beginning a process that could lead to risk reductions actions under section 6 of TSCA for several phthalates, short-chain chlorinated paraffins, and perfluorinated chemicals.
· Reinforcing the DecaBDE phase-out – which will take place over three years – with requirements to ensure that any new uses of PBDEs are reviewed by EPA prior to returning to the market.
EPA expects to issue additional action plans every four months. This and further steps taken by EPA indicate a desire by the Agency to fully utilize the existing authority within TSCA while Congress decides when and how to introduce a modernization of how we regulate chemicals in the US.
More information on EPA’s legislative reform principles and a fact sheet on the complete set of actions on the four chemicals can be found on EPA's web site.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tadpoles that glow when they encounter pollution? Could it be?
It seems so.
Research conducted by University of Wyoming Professor Paul Johnson and others was recently published in the journal, Environmental Science & Technology, and highlighted the case of the African clawed frog, or more accurately its tadpoles, which can be genetically modified using the genes from jellyfish so that they glow. Not all the time of course (even tadpoles have to sleep, I think). But scientists have demonstrated that these modified tadpoles can "light up" in response to a pollutant, and can even discriminate between several chemicals at the same time.
More information can be found on the University of Wyoming web site. The article is available at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es9008954?journalCode=esthag (subscription required).
Johnson hopes that this technique can be used in the detection of pollutants in the environment.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Phthalates are big. Well, at least from a public health policy perspective. These chemicals are the most commonly used plasticizers worldwide, being used to soften PVC and other products. One of the biggest concerns by regulators and activists is the use of phthalates in toys. A few days ago the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in the United States appointed seven independent scientists to serve on a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) to assess the potential health risks from exposure to phthalates and phthalate substitutes.
The CHAP is required under the provisions of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, signed into law by then-President George W. Bush in 2008. The specific charge of the CHAP is to examine the potential effects on children's health of phthalates and any alternatives to phthalates as used in children's toys and child care articles.
The seven scientists appointed from a list nominated by the President of the National Academy of Sciences are:
Chris Gennings, Ph.D.
Medical College of Virginia
Russell Hauser, M.D., Sc.D., M.P.H.
Harvard School of Public Health
Holger M. Koch, Ph.D.
Ruhum University of Bochum, Germany
Andreas Kortenkamp, Ph.D.
University of London
Paul J. Lioy, Ph.D.
Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
Philip E. Mirkes, Ph.D.
Washington State University, Vancouver
Bernard A. Schwetz, D.V.M., Ph.D.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (retired)
Monday, December 28, 2009
As TSCA reform becomes more and more inevitable, chemical industry trade associations are increasing looking to negotiate with environmental and health advocacy groups. The goal is to seek agreement on key issues prior to the release of the bill that is expected out of Congress in the next few months (or even weeks). Industry's point of view was reiterated in a press conference held on December 16th at the offices of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).
Mike Walls of ACC said that while there is general agreement on the need for TSCA reform and the overall principles, there are still many issues in the details that need to be resolved. And this time leading up to introduction of the bill is when it is important to "engage in stakeholder dialogue." ACC would like to be able to come to agreement on major provisions of the bill before it is introduced.
Environmental groups appear to have a different view. They look to the bill as a starting point for negotiations. Specifically, they expect Senator Frank Lautenberg to introduce some (probably updated) version of the Kid Safe Chemical Act that he has introduced twice in the past (both times the bill never even received debate in committee). The updated bill is expected to shift the onus for proving chemicals safe to the manufacturers, rather than the previous requirement that EPA must prove chemicals to be unsafe. Something that was hard to do since TSCA doesn't require that data needed to make that assessment even be provided to EPA.
So the dance continues. Both industry and advocacy groups have been putting resources into providing information and input to the legislative process, working with staffs of Lautenberg in the Senate and Waxman in the House. It is expected that Congress will hold 2 or 3 hearings before the bill is introduced, which is likely to happen in the first few months of 2010 with some fanfare. Look for window of opportunity in between the health care and climate change debates.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Climate denialists like to argue that they are "well armed" to deny the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. And in some respects they are, because these non-science free market lobbying groups have a long history of setting up fake front organizations and now blogger networks to saturate the public domain with intentional misinformation. They did it to deny that smoking caused cancer, that CFCs affected the ozone hole, that smokestacks in Ohio caused acid rain in New England, and that killer smogs were the result of pollution. In all cases the denialists were wrong, the scientists were right, and policy-makers finally made decisions that helped to fix the problems. In fact, some of the current climate change denialists are the very same people and lobbying groups that denied the earlier science.
Some of the recent articles here on Gather have suggested the following as sources of denialist misinformation. Too bad they aren't scientific at all. For example:
The Climate Skeptics Handbook: This is a comic book written by Joanna Nova, a performance artist in Australia, who has a deal with Heartland Institute to produce and distribute this comical presentation of false information. One of the handy tips is to whine of "personal attacks" whenever a real scientist rebuts the shoddy "science." So demonstrations that they are wrong are somehow made into "dismiss and demean" (which is a transparent attempt to deflect from the fact that they are wrong). Besides not being a scientist, Nova is hooked up with David Evans, an electrical engineer who also writes for the Australian version of Heartland Institute and yet has done no science research. The two of them sell software designed to speculate in gold. No climate science research or experience at all for either of them.
Climate Depot: This is a blog run by Marc Morano for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a non-science free market lobbying group. This is the same Marc Morano who was James Inhofe's hit man when Inhofe was Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee in the Senate (before the Democrats got the majority). Morano has zero science training of any kind. For Inhofe he compiled through Google searching a "list" of "climate skeptics" that consisted solely of blog clips, which he helped orchestrate. Besides his scam with Inhofe, Morano was the Washington attack dog for his old boss Rush Limbaugh. Morano also was the one who distributed and pushed the Swiftboating of both Senator John Kerry and Representative John Murtha, disparaging both war veterans for their service. Morano never served in the military. Despite having no science training at all, Morano is one of several hired writers listed as a "global warming expert" by Heartland Institute.
Icecap: Icecap is a blog that takes stories from other blogs and online news sources and disseminates them to their network of denialist bloggers and willing lackeys like those on Gather who further plagiarize their posts. It is run by Joseph D'Aleo, a retired TV meteorologist and the first director of meteorology at the weather channel. While he was a meteorologist and businessman, he never did any climate research (TV weather is not climate science). D'Aleo is also associated with the Heartland Institute. Icecap intentionally sets up its web page to blur the lines between stories so that it can discount anything that is actual climate science by attaching a denialist story to it. It even writes fake headlines to dismiss stories that don't support their view.
CO2 Science: This blog is basically the same disinformation blog series that keeps changing to keep ahead of its discredited stories and founders. It's run by Sherwood and Craig Idso (and another Idso or two), who are well-known for setting up fake front groups for such organizations as ExxonMobil and the Western Fuels Association. The goal of the blog is to distribute disinformation on carbon dioxide like "carbon dioxide is taken up by plants so it can't be bad in the upper atmosphere" [how many plants do you see growing in the upper atmosphere] and "global warming is good for us" [unless you live along the coasts that will be flooded, the interior areas that will become dust bowls, etc.]. Not surprisingly, Craig Idso is also associated with the Heartland Institute.
SPPI: Another front group for industry free market lobbyists. Started by Robert Ferguson, a non-scientist (with a BA in history and MA in legislative affairs) who set up SPPI after also serving as director of another front group CSSP. Both are heavily funded by ExxonMobil and associated with free market lobbying groups. Ferguson was a speaker at Heartland Institute's denialist marketing event in 2009, but is mostly known for his 26 years working for Republican congressmen on the hill. The site relies mostly on the rantings of another non-scientist, Lord Monckton, who was a former journalist and adviser to the conservative party in Britain. He has zero science background.
So, some common themes arise from these sites denialists and their lackeys like to cite as sources for "climate science."
- Most are run by people with no scientific training at all, and none by anyone who has ever done any climate research
- Most have some connection to the conservative party (conservative = like the status quo)
- All are associated with the Heartland Institute or the Australian counterpart to the Heartland Institute, the non-science free market lobbying group whose mandate is to protect their industry membership from regulations (the kind of regulations that the science says are needed)
- All are not even close to being valid sources for science
Keep in mind that these are the "experts" that denialists and their lackeys put forth. This is the best they can do - free market associated front groups.
In the end, it comes down to whether we should listen to the scientists who study the science, or the non-science free market lobbying groups whose mission and long history is to deny any science that might lead to policies they don't like.
The answer is pretty clear.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
The US EPA has reached an agreement with three manufacturers of the brominated flame retardant, decabromodiphenylether (DBDE or DecaBDE) to voluntarily phase out its production within three years. Chemtura, Albemarle and ICL Industrial Products will stop making DecaBDE, which is used in consumer electronics (e.g., computers), furniture, textiles, and other items as a flame retardant.
Two other related chemicals, PentaBDE and OctaBDE, were banned previously but DecaBDE was assumed to be too big to be toxic. Subsequent research has proved this assumption to be questionable, with DecaBDE found to be a potential carcinogen as well as toxic to the nervous system. It also is persistent in the environment and has been found in the blood of humans, including in the recently released biomonitoring report by the Center for Disease Control.
The three companies agreed to end production, importation and use of the chemical in all consumer products by December 2012. That would be followed by a full ban a year later. Several US states, other countries and the EU have already banned all three forms of the flame retardant. The one limitation of the agreement is that a fourth manufacturer, based in Japan, did not sign the agreement and thus as of this writing plans to continue to export products containing DecaBDE to the US.
This last fact is another reason why the current chemical control law in the US, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is deemed insufficient by virtually all stakeholders and is expected to be "modernized" in 2010.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki, Finland, is working hard to get prepared for the expected onslaught of registration dossiers that will be submitted in 2010. ECHA is putting some contingency plans into place as the first deadline for registrations - for high volume and high hazard chemicals - comes due on November 30, 2010.
While that seems like a long time from now, it isn't. Companies have been working hard for the last 2 years trying to get organized and coordinate with other companies that manufacture or import the same chemicals into Europe.
Two of the contingencies are a "back-up" IT system and a task force to monitor SIEF activity.
Currently all legal entities are required to submit their dossiers through ECHA's online REACH-IT system. Given that the system became overloaded and hard to access during the pre-registration period in 2008, where 2.4 million pre-registrations were received when only about 400,000 were expected, a back-up system is probably a good idea. ECHA has invited bids from three consortia for a contract to develop the back-up in the event of a total collapse of its REACH-IT system.
Another contingency is to appoint a team to monitor the activity of lead registrants and substance information exchange forums (SIEFs). SIEFs are the forums mandated by REACH in which all manufacturers, importers, and "only representatives" are required to work together to share data so as to limit unnecessary animal testing. Once hired and trained, the team will assess various scenarios ranging from a low number of submissions to a very high number of submissions. They will also be empowered to deal with any problems arising in the SIEFs that might endanger successful registrations by the deadlines. Given the ongoing problems many SIEFs have had getting organized and forming consortia, a little help from ECHA is likely to be very much appreciated by industry. In fact, industry has been pushing for more help in meeting deadlines for a long time.
Another welcome sight was last week's release of much anticipated "technical completeness check tool." The TCC tool will enable registrants who have prepared the data in the IUCLID5 database to run the same automated check that ECHA will run once the registration dossier is submitted. To date, many of the early registration dossiers have failed to pass the completeness check, which automatically rejects dossiers even for minor deviations. Pre-checking with the TCC should mean most dossiers will pass the ECHA check quickly, and minimize any bottle-necking as companies find that everyone else is also trying to submit their dossiers at the last minute.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Those in the pesticide registration business have heard of Debbie Edwards, Director of the Office of Pesticide Programs at the USEPA since April 2007. A few days ago she announced her retirement, which is seen as a loss by industry because she was considered to be reasonable and effective in moving decision-making forward. The following is the email that is being distributed widely around EPA and the regulated community.
From: Debbie Edwards/DC/USEPA/US
To: OPP ALL
Date: 12/17/2009 04:53 PM
Subject: A message from the OPP Office Director
I have decided to retire from Federal Service to pursue other interests and to spend more time in Latin America. My last day in the office will be January 14, 2010. I have worked in the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs since November of 1985 and have enjoyed a very fulfilling career. The work of OPP is challenging, always interesting and, in my view, of great importance to our society. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work closely with so many of you over the years in meeting and advancing our environmental protection goals. I leave with mixed emotions, as I believe it is a very exciting time to be in OPP. Through your efforts, the program is well on its way to increasing transparency; addressing long-standing environmental justice and children's health issues within the farmworker community; focusing greater attention on ecological risks and endangered species protection; bringing IPM practices to urban environments, including schools and day care centers; implementing the endocrine disrupter screening program; transitioning to 21st century toxicology and decreased animal testing; addressing human health risks associated with spray drift and volatilization; developing a framework for regulation of pesticide products that contain nanomaterials; more effectively incorporating human epidemiology data into the risk assessment process, and much more. I am confident you will continue to bring all of your energy, enthusiasm and expertise to bear in these challenging areas and that the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs will continue to be a world leader in pesticide regulation. I wish all of you the very best, both personally and professionally, in the years to come.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Thomas Friedman and the Earth Race - How to Combat Climate Change and Use the Market to Build a New Energy Future
For those who know of Thomas L. Friedman, they know that he is an award winning writer and journalist, and also someone who knows more about the world than most folks. His best-selling book The World is Flat is just one of several books in which he shows his keen insight into the future.
Friedman now offers his thoughts following the recently completed United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. While he says that the "Earth Day" approach accomplished some goals, we need to shift more into what he calls and "Earth Race" approach.
The Earth Race
Therefore, the goal of Earth Racers is to focus on getting the U.S. Senate to pass an energy bill, with a long-term price on carbon that will really stimulate America to become the world leader in clean-tech. If we lead by example, more people will follow us by emulation than by compulsion of some U.N. treaty.
He says that:
In the cold war, we had the space race: who could be the first to put a man on the moon. Only two countries competed, and there could be only one winner. Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be the first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on Earth. [my emphasis added]
He suggests that what President Obama should have done in Copenhagen is to:
"...look China’s prime minister in the eye and say: “I am going to get our Senate to pass an energy bill with a price on carbon so we can clean your clock in clean-tech. This is my moon shot. Game on.”
An interesting concept. The US should unilaterally say, hey, we're going to beat your pants off in this Earth Race, coming up with new energy technologies that leave you (China) in the dust, and you (OPEC oil barons) wondering what you're going to do with your oil, and you (Russia) doing whatever it is that you are doing today, begging us to share the new technology with you. Which we will do....for a price.
So, anyone think this will work?
Friday, December 18, 2009
For the past 10 months I have been following the ongoing developments as Congress considers how to "reform," "modernize" or otherwise change the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Originally passed in 1976 and largely unchanged since then, there seems to be wide agreement across all stakeholders that it is time for TSCA to be updated.
The questions are how, and when?
While there is agreement on the "general principles" level, there is still quite a bit of difference in how to get there. Industry largely favors an government-centric prioritization step in which EPA would do some preliminary review based on the available data and then identify chemicals for which industry would agree to provide additional information. The health and environmental advocacy community, while recognizing that resource limitations will require some sort of prioritization, is in favor of something closer to what the REACH program stipulates in the EU. They want to have industry provide at least a base set of data on all chemicals that are currently produced. Otherwise, they say, EPA will have the same problem it has now, i.e., how do you prioritize when you don't have the data needed for prioritization.
Rumor now has it that Senator Lautenberg wants to make sure the bill he will likely reintroduce gets some attention, and that there are likely to be some additional Congressional hearings before introduction. Given that and the approaching holidays, as well as the current focus on the climate change meetings in Copenhagen, it will likely be January before we see hearings and February or March before a bill is introduced.
I suspect it will be done pretty early in the year since members in the House (and 1/3 of the Senate) will be in reelection campaign mode by late spring and summer. I think there will be interest in being able to tout a major legislative victory (depending, of course, on which members would think of TSCA reform passage as "victory").
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
As promised by Steve Owens at the November 17, 2009 hearing on TSCA chemical control in the House, the USEPA has now sent for White House review the first six of its “action plans” for addressing chemicals of concern under the authority of the existing toxic chemical law. This is the first of a series of steps taken by USEPA as it more aggressively uses its current authority while waiting for a new law to be enacted by Congress.
As is the standard procedure, USEPA first sends the action plans to the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB), which it did on December 14th. As Owens previously noted, the action plans are designed to "outline the risks that use of these chemicals may present and what steps we may take to address those concerns."
According to USEPA's web site, the initial six chemicals being evaluated are:
* Benzidine dyes and pigments
* Bisphenol A (BPA)
* Penta, octa, and decabromodiphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in products
* Perfluorinated chemicals
* Short-chain chlorinated paraffins
Once the plans are published, USEPA would then engage with stakeholders (both manufacturers, users, and the public) to prioritize additional chemicals for evaluation. The goal is to make new action plans available to the public every four months. The final result of the reviews could lead to labeling requirements, restrictions and bans under section 6 of TSCA, and other actions as appropriate.
Needless to say, industry is less than thrilled about USEPA exerting their existing TSCA authority and, in fact, there is the possibility that industry could argue USEPA has overreached that authority. However, industry must be careful if they choose to fight the USEPA's actions, as it may have the reverse effect of demonstrating to US lawmakers the urgency of a need to modernize TSCA into something that puts much more of the onus for proving chemical safety onto the companies that manufacture the chemicals.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Continuing my series of the statements of key participants in the recent Senate EPW Committee hearings on TSCA chemical control reform, today is a report from John Stephenson. Earlier statements can be found here, and also at the committee web site. Today is actually not his specific testimony, which is rather long, but the summary of the GAO report on which his testimony is based. Stephenson is the Director, Natural Resources and Environment group at the General Accountability Office, which periodically researches and issues reports at the request of Congress. They have done several reports evaluating TSCA and its deficiencies over the years. The following is the executive summary from the report "Observations on Improving the Toxic Substances Control Act." His full testimony is at the link.
What GAO found
EPA lacks adequate scientific information on the toxicity of many chemicals. One major reason is that TSCA generally places the burden of obtaining data about existing chemicals on EPA rather than on chemical companies. For example, the act requires EPA to demonstrate certain health or environmental risks before it can require companies to further test their chemicals. As a result, EPA does not routinely assess the risks of the over 83,000 chemicals already in use. Moreover, TSCA does not require chemical companies to test the approximately 700 new chemicals introduced into commerce each year for toxicity, and companies generally do not voluntarily perform such testing. Furthermore, the procedures EPA must follow to obtain test data from companies can take years. Regarding IRIS, in 2008, GAO reported that this significant chemical assessment program—which provides EPA’s scientific position on the potential human health effects of exposure to more than 540 chemicals—is at serious risk of becoming obsolete because the agency has
not been able to complete timely, credible assessments. In May 2009, EPA announced reforms to its IRIS assessment process, citing GAO’s past recommendations and its high-risk designation. Overall, GAO believes that, if the reforms are effectively implemented, they will address GAO’s recommendations and provide a sound framework for conducting IRIS assessments. However, given the number of obstacles that can impede the progress of IRIS assessments, the viability of this program will depend on effective and sustained management.
While TSCA authorizes EPA to ban, limit, or otherwise regulate existing toxic chemicals, EPA must meet a high legal threshold, which has proven difficult. For example, EPA must demonstrate “unreasonable risk” to ban or limit chemical production, which EPA believes requires it to conduct extensive cost-benefit analyses that can take many years to complete. Since 1976, EPA has issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals. Furthermore, its 1989 regulation phasing out most uses of asbestos was largely vacated by a federal appeals court in 1991 because it was not based on “substantial evidence.” In contrast, the European Union and a number of other countries have largely banned asbestos, a known human carcinogen that can cause lung cancer and other diseases. GAO previously suggested that Congress amend TSCA to reduce the evidentiary burden EPA must meet to control toxic substances and continues to believe such change warrants consideration.
Because of TSCA’s prohibitions on the disclosure of confidential business information, EPA has limited ability to share information on chemical production and risk. According to EPA officials, about 95 percent of the notices companies have provided to EPA on new chemicals contain some information claimed as confidential. Evaluating the appropriateness of confidentiality claims is time- and resource-intensive, and EPA does not challenge most claims. GAO previously suggested that Congress, among other things, consider amending TSCA to authorize EPA to share the confidential business information that chemical companies provide to EPA with states.
More analysis to follow in ensuing days.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I have been posting the statements of key participants in the recent Senate EPW Committee hearings on TSCA chemical control reform. Previously I posted the Chairwoman's opening statement, the Ranking member's opening statement, and the statement of the EPA Administrator. Today is the opening statement of Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institutes of Health and the National Toxicology Program.
Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee—I am pleased to appear before you today to present testimony on our current understanding regarding chemical hazards. My name is Linda Birnbaum; I am the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health, as well as of the National Toxicology Program (NTP).
Environmental health science has made tremendous strides since the original passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA. Our understanding of chemical toxicity has been challenged by the new science of epigenetics, which is the study of changes to the packaging of the DNA molecules that influence the expression of genes, and hence the risks of diseases and altered development. Studies indicate that exposures that cause epigenetic changes can affect several generations. This new understanding heightens the need to protect people at critical times in their development when they are most vulnerable to this kind of toxicity.
The concept of “windows of susceptibility” is an important area. Research has revealed the heightened vulnerability of fetal, infant and child developmental processes to disruption from relatively low doses of certain chemicals. Established first for neurodevelopmental toxicants like PCBs, and lead and other metals, this concept also applies to hormonally active agents (endocrine disrupting chemicals). In our NIEHS Breast Cancer and Environment Research Program, co-funded with the National Cancer Institute, researchers are investigating whether periods of susceptibility exist in the development of the mammary gland, when exposures to environmental agents may impact the breast and endocrine systems that can influence breast cancer risk in adulthood.
There are unanticipated effects of exposure to toxic chemicals, and our research must extend to health endpoints beyond cancer and birth defects. NIEHS is supporting research on the developmental origins of obesity and the theory that environmental exposures during development play an important role in the current epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. There are data showing weight gain in rats and mice after developmental exposure to a number of different substances. Thus we need to start thinking about obesity not just in terms of genetics and lifestyle but also in terms of exposures. These kinds of outcomes will need to be considered in assessment of toxicity.
There are other susceptibilities to consider. For some types of chemicals and health effects, there may be excess risk from specific genes or chronic diseases. For example, the level of a person’s risk of bladder cancer from smoking has been shown to depend in part on whether or not that individual’s genome contains variants in specific detoxification enzymes. The existence of these subtle variations in susceptibility must be factored into overall toxicity assessments.
Furthermore, exposures do not occur singly, the way they are usually tested in the lab. All of us are exposed to many different chemicals at the same time. Scientists have labored to come up with ways to estimate risk from combinations of exposures. One example was the method used for dioxin and related compounds. Dioxin is an environmental contaminant and known human carcinogen. Scientists believe that other chemicals such as some PCBs and furans may cause cancer in a similar manner. The question for public health officials was how health standards could be adjusted to take into account the fact that people are always exposed to mixtures of dioxin-like compounds, not just one at a time.
To address this problem, a large body of work led to the development of a method to estimate toxicity of mixtures of dioxin-like compounds based upon toxic equivalency factors, or TEFs. To estimate the overall toxicity of a mixture, the contaminants’ weighted contributions are added together, adjusting for the fact that some compounds are more toxic than others. The additive methodology has been tested and confirmed by studies done by the NTP, EPA, and others. TEF methodology has also been extended to other health endpoints, including reproductive and developmental, immune, and neurological.
Differences in routes of exposure must also be considered. For example, hexavalent chromium compounds have been shown to cause lung cancer in humans when inhaled, but it was not known how these compounds behaved when ingested. Hexavalent chromium was tested by the NTP because of concerns over its presence in drinking water. The NTP studies showed that a compound containing hexavalent chromium causes cancer in laboratory animals following oral administration in drinking water, confirming the need to protect people from oral routes of exposure.
The impact of new scientific information we have on effects of environmental chemicals can be seen in the EPA’s arsenic standards for drinking water implemented in 2006. The NIEHS Superfund Research Program, which is authorized by this Committee, funded scientists who played a vital role in the process through research on health effects of arsenic in drinking water. This research included studies of arsenic metabolism, mechanistic research on disease pathogenesis by arsenic, and both molecular and traditional epidemiology with detailed exposure assessment. These studies provided the scientific underpinnings for a standard that protects the health of Americans against long-term effects of arsenic exposure such as cancer, diabetes, neurological and cardiovascular disease.
We are poised to move forward into an era of a new kind of toxicological testing that is less expensive and also gives us an improved understanding of the actual effects on humans. Toxicology is advancing from a mostly observational science using disease-specific models to a better predictive science focused upon a broad inclusion of target-specific, mechanism-based, biological observations. This means using alternative assays targeting the key pathways, molecular events, or processes linked to disease or injury, and incorporating them into a research and testing framework. The NTP is laying the foundation for this testing paradigm in partnership with the National Human Genome Research Institute and the EPA. They are using quantitative high throughput screening assays to test a large number of chemicals. The resulting data are being deposited into publicly accessible relational databases. Analyses of these results will set the stage for a new framework for toxicity testing.
Reform of TSCA needs to account for the ways in which our understanding of the effects of chemical exposures has deepened and improved over the past 33 years. We must have the ability to harness new technologies and a growing knowledge base of underlying biology, receptor and other host pathways, variations in susceptibility, and routes and timing of exposure, to obtain a clearer and more accurate picture of the risks posed by these chemicals. Our new tools under TSCA must provide for research and development to create the comprehensive testing envisioned.
Thank you. I would be happy to answer questions.
Friday, December 11, 2009
I have been posting the statements of key participants in the recent Senate EPW Committee hearings on TSCA chemical control reform. Previously I posted the Chairwoman's opening statement and the statement of the EPA Administrator. Today is the opening statement of Ranking Minority member James Inhofe.
Senator James M. Inhofe, Ranking Member
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Full Committee and Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health joint hearing entitled, “Oversight Hearing on the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act.”
Wednesday, December 2, 2009 2:30 p.m.
Thank you, Chairman Boxer and Chairman Lautenberg, for holding this oversight hearing on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
For over 30 years, TSCA has provided a scientifically sound, risk-based framework for reporting, testing, tracking, and restricting chemical substances and mixtures. This is the first of several hearings to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the law, and I welcome this debate.
We will hear testimony today from federal witnesses covering how TSCA could be improved, the areas where EPA could do better, and how the science and scope of chemical review has evolved over the years. However, in addition, I encourage you to discuss ways in which TSCA currently succeeds in protecting human health and the environment.
Senator Lautenberg has, in previous years, introduced several versions of the “Kids Safe Chemicals Act.” The legislation would eliminate the current risk-based review system under TSCA and force EPA to use the precautionary principle – a regulatory principle that I adamantly oppose. Senator Lautenberg has indicated that he will again introduce legislation to amend TSCA. In the interest of moving balanced, effective TSCA reform legislation, I urge you, Senator, to introduce a bill driven by risk-based analysis rather than the precautionary principle.
EPA, NGOs, and industry have recently issued statements supporting changes to TSCA, along with their principles on how the law should be amended. Some of these principles seem reasonable to me, while others do not. Some of the ideas do not require new legislative authority and could be accomplished under TSCA by regulatory changes. For the record, I believe that any changes to TSCA - statutory or regulatory - must adhere to the following fundamental principles:
- Reviews must use data and methods based on the best available science and risk-based assessment.
- Reviews must include cost-benefit considerations for the private-sector and consumers.
- Processes must protect proprietary business information, as well as information that should be protected for security reasons.
- Procedures should prioritize reviews for existing chemicals.
- Processes must not include any provision that encourages litigation or citizen suits.
- Reviews must not include any provisions that compel product substitution by commercial interests or consumers.
Following these principles, I believe we can protect public health and the environment while safeguarding jobs and the economy. [emphasis in original] With that, I look forward to hearing from the federal representatives here today on this important topic.
Before I close, I want to follow up on a letter I sent you yesterday, Madame Chairman, requesting hearings on what is now colloquially referred to as ‘ClimateGate’. Whatever one’s position on the science of global warming—and, Madame Chairman, I think you know mine—one cannot deny that the emails raise fundamental questions concerning, among other things, transparency and openness in science, especially taxpayer-funded science.
What do I mean? Well, in addition to apparent attempts to manipulate data and vilify scientists with opposing viewpoints, there is evidence that some of the world’s preeminent scientists, who receive or have received taxpayer-funded grants, evaded laws requiring information disclosure, including the Freedom of Information Act.
Not only is this a potential violation of law, but it violates a fundamental principle of the scientific method: that is, put everything on the table and allow anyone so inclined to attack it. If research sustains the attack, then the researcher, the scientific community, and the taxpayer can rightly have confidence that the conclusions are sound. If not, then it’s back to the drawing board.
Madame Chairman, as I stated in my letter, for the taxpayer’s sake, let’s look at this controversy, from top to bottom. It has already forced Phil Jones, the head of the UK’s Climatic Research Unit to step aside temporarily. So please join me in calling on the Obama Administration and the IPCC not only to investigate this matter, but to release all of the data in question, to ensure that taxpayer-funded research is conducted according to the highest legal, ethical, and professional standards.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
As I have been reporting here, both the House and the Senate have been holding hearings related to the potential reform (or "modernization") of the 33 year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). But activities on introducing a bill have been queued up behind other large legislative efforts like health care and the climate change (cap-and-trade) bill. However, the fact that the climate change bill has lost some momentum may open up a window for chemical control.
Given that next year will be dominated by positioning for a critical mid-term election, it is quite possible that Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s pending legislation to overhaul TSCA - which he said he would introduce in the “coming weeks” (though he has been saying that same thing since this past February) - may actually get a chance to be introduced. Lautenberg had introduced a Kid Safe Chemical Act originally in 2005, then again in 2008, with the bills dying in committee with no action on both occasions. The new version of "Kid Safe" is expected to incorporate ideas offered in several meetings held in 2009 between House and Senate staff and both industy and environmental groups.
While TSCA modernization is likely to be substantially less contentious than the cap-and-trade and health care debates, there will be the inevitable differences between industry and environmental groups on the details of how to get it done. Despite these "devil in the details" issues, there is general agreement on the principles that a new TSCA will have to entail. Among these are that some form of prioritization is necessary for the new law to be workable, that industry will need to provide more health and safety data than required under TSCA, and that there will be incentives for more "green chemistry." Biomonitoring of some sort is also a possible addition to chemical control.
At a recent Senate hearing, EPW Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer stated that TSCA reform is a priority for the committee. Boxer informed Lautenberg at the hearing that “You have my word that TSCA is very high up on my agenda.” With all sides agreeing that some modernization is necessary, this would seem to be a good time for a new law to be passed.
So we'll just have to see if TSCA reform will slip in between other major legislation. I'll continue to provide updates here as they happen.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Book Review – Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate by Stephen H. Schneider
Read this book. Seriously. Read it. Those who are familiar with the IPCC and with the climate change discussions will have heard of Stephen H. Schneider. Not only did he receive the collective 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the IPCC (along with Al Gore), Schneider has played an important and often pivotal role in the development of the science over the last four decades. He has also been the focus of much of the climate denialist attacks.
In Science as a Contact Sport, Schneider gives us a reasoned, informative and insightful look into both the history of climate change science and the inner workings of the IPCC process in developing the first four Assessment Reports. Essentially this is a memoir, and through his personal experiences from the center of the scientific debate Schneider opens a window into how the scientific consensus was developed over more than forty years of focused research, as well as glimpses into the initial discovery of the role of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in causing a warming of the earth.
In a writing style that mirrors his real-life tendency of being both in-your-face and humorous, his use of anecdote and metaphor are instrumental in getting the point across and tunneling into the real issues. Climate deniers, as he calls them, have used his earlier work on the cooling of the atmosphere due to aerosol releases to suggest that he is a scientist for any temperature. This is just one example of the way denialists misrepresent his work and the work of others to push their free market agendas. He addresses some of these willful distortions in chapters on how the companies who are most affected by possible policy options “heat up” the debate and in a chapter called “Media Wars: The Stories Behind Persistent Distortion.” He coins the term “mediarology” to define how difficult it is to communicate honestly complex science through the media. And he talks about other tactics used to distort the discussion, where the deniers goal isn’t to inform the truth but to be victorious (defined as “delaying” action). Schneider notes that even though such obvious denier fraud as the “Great Global Warming Swindle,” which was thoroughly debunked as garbage at the time it was released (hundreds of errors and a willful attempt to mislead), is still used by denialists to “support” their charade.
But the main benefit of the book is the “history-in-the-making” aspect of the process. From the inside Schneider relates how scientists first came to suspect that the world was getting warmer, the investigations that were undertaken, the honest disagreements between scientists as they tried to understand what they were observing, how increasing technological and computing capability from the 1970s through the present day allowed greater and more accurate modeling, and how the IPCC process works to develop a consensus. This last part is particularly revealing, as the IPCC insists that there be 100% consensus on the final work product. All parties argue for days to come up with just the right wording, and since the IPCC consists of representatives from the governments of all parts of the world, there were many cases where countries like Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia pushed for more moderate language than the scientists felt was warranted by their review of the scientific literature. The result is two-fold. First, that no one can claim their views went unheard. And second, the final conclusions in the IPCC reports are clearly much more moderated than the science would have predicted. In other words, the IPCC reports are more likely to be underestimating the problem rather than overestimating it. Having followed the process in Schneider’s book, it is easy to see why more recent science tends to show the problem is getting worse, faster than the IPCC predicted.
I recommend this book to everyone looking to get an insider’s view of the history and process of the development of our understanding of climate change.
Other science book reviews.
Several outlets are sources of information on the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference running from December 7 to December 18, 2009 in Copenhagen.
The official COP15 web site has continuous news coverage of events and background information.
Also see the web site of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
Politico has a special coverage section.
The Washington Post has a special section on climate change that will follow COP15 and related developments.
YouTube will carry videos and a CNN/YouTube debate. See here for an opening video called "Please Help the World."
Twitter is another source of info.
Climate Progress will have updates.
For background information on COP15, you can check out the following: Wikipedia
Keep checking back for updates during the 2 weeks (Dec. 7-18, 2009)
Friday, December 4, 2009
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified at the Senate hearing on TSCA reform on Wednesday, December 2, 2009. The title of the hearing is "Oversight Hearing on the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act.”
In her testimony, Jackson reiterated the EPA principles that she had introduced in late September.
First, chemicals should be reviewed against safety standards that are based on sound science and reflect risk‐based criteria protective of human health and the environment. Safety standards should be driven solely by scientific evidence of risks. EPA should have the clear authority to establish safety standards that reflect the best available science while recognizing the need to assess and manage risk in the face of uncertainty.
Second, the responsibility for providing adequate health and safety information should rest on industry. Manufacturers must develop and submit the hazard, use, and exposure data demonstrating that new and existing chemicals under review are safe. If industry doesn’t provide the information, EPA should have the necessary tools to quickly and efficiently require testing, or obtain other information from manufacturers that are relevant to determining the safety of chemicals, without the delays and obstacles currently in place, or excessive claims of confidential business information.
Third, EPA should have clear authority to take risk management actions when chemicals do not meet the safety standard, with flexibility to take into account a range of considerations, including children’s health, economic costs, social benefits, and equity concerns. EPA and industry must include special consideration for exposures and effects on groups with higher vulnerabilities – particularly children. For example, children ingest chemicals at a higher ratio to their body weight than adults, and are more susceptible to long‐term damage and developmental problems. Our new principles offer them much stronger protections.
Fourth, EPA should have clear authority to set priorities for conducting safety reviews. In all cases, EPA and chemical producers must act on priority chemicals in a timely manner, with firm deadlines to maintain accountability. This will not only assure prompt protection of health and the environment, but provide business with the certainly that it needs for planning and investment.
Fifth, we must encourage innovation in green chemistry, and support research, education, recognition, and other strategies that will lead us down the road to safer and more sustainable chemicals and processes. All of this must happen with transparency and concern for the public’s right to know.
Finally, implementation of the law should be adequately and consistently funded, in order to meet the goal of assuring the safety of chemicals, and to maintain public confidence that EPA is meeting that goal. To that end, manufacturers of chemicals should support the costs of Agency implementation, including the review of information provided by manufacturers.
Jackson acknowledged that coming up with a new law will take time. So she noted that she had instructed Steve Owens to use all the current authority TSCA gives EPA very aggressively. Starting with completing and making public a series of “action plans” for the chemicals which will outline the risks that the use of these chemicals may present and what steps we may take to address those concerns.
More on the hearings to come.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Recently the House held hearings on reform of the over 30-year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and yesterday the Senate followed suit with its own hearing. Yesterday also was important because thirteen US states released "a set of principles designed to ensure that the debate over reforming the nation’s outdated chemical policy stays focused on protecting public health and the environment.:
“Current federal chemical regulations fail to adequately protect the nation’s citizens and environment from toxic chemicals and unsafe products,” said David Littell, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “The effects of exposure to toxic chemicals on human health, the environment, and the economy are enormous and often avoidable.”
Not surprisingly, California is one of the states taking action. In addition, Maine and Washington are taking state level action. The other states contributing to the principles are Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Vermont.
The eight recommendations listed are:
1) Require Chemical Data Reporting
2) Demonstrate Chemicals and Products are Safe
3) Prioritize Chemicals of Concern
4) Protect the Most Vulnerable
5) Promote Safer Chemicals and Products
6) Address Emerging Contaminants
7) Strengthen Federal Law & Preserve States' Rights
8) Fund State Programs
A press release summarizing these recommendation is available on the Maine DEP web site. I'll continue to monitor developments both on the state and federal levels. See here for the opening remarks of yesterday's Senate hearing. I'll post summaries of the remarks of all the witnesses in the following days as well as analysis of what all these hearings mean for the modernization of TSCA.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
As I noted yesterday, today there is a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing entitled "Oversight Hearing on the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act.” As I write this the hearing is still going on, but here are the opening remarks of Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer. I'll provide additional information on each of the witnesses in coming days. Witnesses are EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, John Stephenson at GAO, and Linda Birnbaum who heads the NIEHS.
STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN BOXER
SENATE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
HEARING ON THE TOXIC SUBSTANCES CONTROL ACT
DECEMBER 2, 2009
(Remarks as prepared for delivery.)
When President Ford signed the Toxic Substances Control Act, TSCA in 1976, the law was supposed to help assure that toxic chemicals would be restricted or banned if they were hazardous.
However, more than three decades later, TSCA has not lived up to that promise. Court decisions and poor implementation have severely weakened the Act’s effectiveness over the years, and TSCA does not include sufficient protections for pregnant women, infants, children and others who are particularly vulnerable to chemical exposures.
In March 2009, the Government Accountability Office put EPA’s chemical management program on GAO’s list of “high risk” programs.
The GAO’s report found: “EPA has failed to develop sufficient chemical assessment information to limit public exposure to many chemicals that may pose substantial health risks.”
I am pleased to see that the Obama Administration is listening, and the EPA is stepping up to the plate on the need to reform our toxics laws.
In September, 2009, EPA issued principles for TSCA reform that include common-sense steps to help address the risks of dangerous toxic chemicals. I look forward to Administrator Jackson’s testimony today on those principles.
Consumers in this country deserve to know that the chemicals we are exposed to every day are safe. The companies that most effectively produce the safest chemicals stand to gain market share, enhanced consumer confidence, and reduce their potential liability costs.
My State of California has led the way in reducing threats from dangerous chemicals, such as phthalates and lead in children’s products. I am proud to have helped pass federal legislation that protects children from these chemicals in the Consumer Protection Safety and Improvement Act of 2008.
There is growing consensus that now is the time to act to transform America’s toxic chemical policies. Senator Lautenberg and I are working on a bill to overhaul TSCA, by requiring the chemical industry to prove their chemicals are safe for pregnant women, infants, children, and other vulnerable populations.
Public health, environmental, environmental justice and other groups have also called for reform that focuses on protecting all people from toxic chemicals, and encouraging the use of safer alternatives to dangerous substances.
The American Chemistry Council’s has issued principles that “support Congress’ effort to modernize our nation’s chemical management system.”
We have a responsibility to America’s families to ensure that the chemicals in the environment, and in the products they use every day have been scientifically tested and that they and their children are not put at risk.
This Committee has the opportunity to strengthen our nation’s toxics laws to ensure that evaluations on the safety of chemicals are made based on science and public health and that all people – especially the most vulnerable – are protected.
Today’s hearing is an important step forward in that process.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The Senate has announced the witnesses that will by testifying at a joint hearing of both the full committee and subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health scheduled for Wednesday, December 2, 2009.
The title of the hearing is "Oversight Hearing on the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act.”
Witnesses include, after opening remarks by the Chairwoman:
The Honorable Lisa Jackson
United States Environmental Protection Agency
John B. Stephenson
Director, Natural Resources & Environment
U.S. Government Accountability Office
Linda Birnbaum Ph.D.
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program
This hearing is part of the duties of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which Barbara Boxer chairs and James Inhofe is ranking minority member.
The hearing will begin at 2:30 pm EST in the EPW Hearing Room - 406 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Recently the House also held a hearing on TSCA reform, focusing on prioritization of chemicals first to be addressed. See my series of articles beginning with this summary and followed on subsequent days with more in-depth summaries of each of the witnesses.
A webcast of the hearing is now available.
I will also provide additional information on witness testimony following this Senate hearing.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
A statement from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit can be read here.
Using quotes (in italics below) from the cited link, note that:
1) The denialists are lying about not having access to the CRU data:
“It is well known within the scientific community and particularly those who are sceptical of climate change that over 95% of the raw station data has been accessible through the Global Historical Climatology Network for several years. We are quite clearly not hiding information which seems to be the speculation on some blogs and by some media commentators,” commented the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research Enterprise and Engagement Professor Trevor Davies.
2) The denialists are lying when they say that the emails reveal a conspiracy to adjust data.
There is nothing in the stolen material which indicates that peer-reviewed publications by CRU, and others, on the nature of global warming and related climate change are not of the highest-quality of scientific investigation and interpretation.
3) The denialists are lying when they say that the data don't support the scientific consensus. Obviously the scientific consensus was reached AFTER the data overwhelmingly led scientists to that conclusion. And all of the data from other sources all support this conclusion, not just the CRU data.
Our global temperature series tallies with those of other, completely independent, groups of scientists working for NASA and the National Climate Data Center in the United States, among others. Even if you were to ignore our findings, theirs show the same results. The facts speak for themselves; there is no need for anyone to manipulate them.
4) The denialists are lying when they claim there are "many" emails that "prove illegal behavior." There is no such thing. There are only a handful of emails cherry picked from over 1000 stolen in which the denialists are creatively interpreting the wording to fit their preconceived non-scientific views.
A selection of these emails have been taken out of context and misinterpreted as evidence that CRU has manipulated climate data to present an unrealistic picture of global warming. This conclusion is entirely unfounded and the evidence from CRU research is entirely consistent with independent evidence assembled by various research groups around the world.
5) The denialists are lying when they say the evidence is not there, when in fact the evidence of human-induced global warming is overwhelming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 4th Assessment Report (AR4) published in 2007 concluded that the warming of the climate system was unequivocal. This conclusion was based not only on the observational temperature record, although this is the key piece of evidence, but on multiple strands of evidence. These factors include: long-term retreat of glaciers in most alpine regions of the world; reductions in the area of the Northern Hemisphere (NH) snow cover during the spring season; reductions in the length of the freeze season in many NH rivers and lakes; reduction in Arctic sea-ice extent in all seasons, but especially in the summer; increases in global average sea level since the 19th century; increases in the heat content of the ocean and warming of temperatures in the lower part of the atmosphere since the late 1950s.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Climate Science Report (or What's Been Happening Since the Last IPCC Report?)
‘The Copenhagen Diagnosis’ is a special report prepared by 26 climate researchers, most of whom are authors of published IPCC reports. In it they conclude "that several important aspects of climate change are occurring at the high end or even beyond the expectations of only a few years ago."
The text of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) was drafted more than three years ago, and since then "many hundreds of papers have been published on a suite of topics related to human-induced climate change." Therefore, the purpose of this new report is to "synthesize the most policy-relevant climate science published" in that time. According to the authors, the rationale is two-fold:
First, the report "serves as an interim evaluation of the evolving science midway through an IPCC cycle - IPCC AR5 is not due for completion until 2013."
Second, and the authors believe the most important, the report "serves as a handbook of science updates that supplements the IPCC AR4 in time for Copenhagen in December 2009, and any national or international climate change policy negotiations that follow."
Purposefully targeting readership by policy-makers, stakeholders, the media and the broader public, each section of the report "begins with a set of key points that summarises the main findings." The authors note that the "science contained in the report is based on the most credible and significant peer-reviewed literature available at the time of publication."
From the Executive Summary, the most significant recent climate change findings are:
Surging greenhouse gas emissions: Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 were nearly 40 percent higher than those in 1990. Even if global emission rates are stabilized at present-day levels, just 20 more years of emissions would give a 25 percent probability that warming exceeds 2°C, even with zero emissions after 2030. Every year of delayed action increases the chances of exceeding the 2°C warming.
Recent global temperatures demonstrate human-induced warming: Over the past 25 years temperatures have increased at a rate of 0.19°C per decade, in very good agreement with predictions based on greenhouse gas increases. Even over the past 10 years, despite a decrease in solar forcing, the trend continues to be one of warming. Natural, short-term fluctuations are occurring as usual, but there have been no significant changes in the underlying warming trend.
Acceleration of melting of ice-sheets, glaciers and ice-caps: A wide array of satellite and ice measurements now demonstrate beyond doubt that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an increasing rate. Melting of glaciers and ice caps in other parts of the world has also accelerated since 1990.
Rapid Arctic sea ice decline: Summertime melting of Arctic sea ice has accelerated far beyond the expectations of climate models. The area of sea ice melt during 2007-9 was about 40 percent greater than the average prediction from IPCC AR4 climate models.
Current sea level rise underestimated: Satellites show recent global average sea level rise (3.4 millimeters per year over the past 15 years) to be around 80 percent above past IPCC predictions. This acceleration in sea level rise is consistent with a doubling in contribution from melting of glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland and West-Antarctic ice sheets.
Sea level predictions revised: By 2100, global sea level is likely to rise at least twice as much as projected by the Working Group 1 of the IPCC AR4; for unmitigated emissions it may well exceed one meter. The upper limit has been estimated as about two meters sea level rise by 2100. Sea level will continue to rise for centuries after global temperatures have been stabilized, and several meters of sea level rise must be expected over the next few centuries.
Delay in action risks irreversible damage: Several vulnerable elements in the climate system (e.g. continental ice sheets, Amazon rain forest, West African monsoon and others) could be pushed towards abrupt or irreversible change if warming continues in a business-as-usual way throughout this century. The risk of transgressing critical thresholds (“tipping points”) increases strongly with ongoing climate change. Thus waiting for higher levels of scientific certainty could mean that some tipping points will be crossed before they are recognized.
The turning point must come soon: If global warming is to be limited to a maximum of 2°C above preindustrial values, global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. To stabilize climate, a de-carbonized global society – with near-zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases – needs to be reached well within this century. More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well under one metric ton CO2 by 2050. This is 80-95 percent below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000.
Clearly the time to act is now.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The Senate has announced that it will hold a joint hearing of both the full committee and subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health next Wednesday, December 2, 2009. This is part of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which is Barbara Boxer chairs and James Inhofe is ranking minority member.
The title of the hearing will be "Oversight Hearing on the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act.”
It is scheduled to begin at 2:30 pm EST in the EPW Hearing Room - 406 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
So far no witnesses have been announced. I'll provide an update here when they do, or you can check the Committee's web site.
Last week the House held a hearing on TSCA reform.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Today I continue with the testimony of the final witness present at the November 17, 2009 Congressional hearings on "Prioritizing Chemicals for Safety Determination." Earlier I gave an overall summary. Beth Bosley is Managing Director of the Boron Specialties company, but spoke on behalf of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA). SOCMA is a trade association that represents the batch and custom chemical industry, which are typically small to medium-sized businesses and thus may not have the more extensive resources of the larger chemical firms.
Bosley noted that SOCMA agrees with the idea that TSCA needs to be modernized, but said that this should be done in a way that "doesn't devastate a strategic American industry that is already facing recession and foreign competition." She offered two essential principles for "a sustainable chemical management law that won't eliminate jobs, economic growth, or products."
1) Priorities must be based on risk: Bosley noted that this means "basing priorities and regulatory criteria on the scientific evaluation of toxicological response and exposure factors." She gave an example of a chemical that may be highly toxic but used only in strictly controlled industrial environments or in small quantities, and as such would actually have a fairly small risk to public health.
2) Proven regulatory mechanisms should be the basis for modernization: Bosley insisted that the modernized TSCA must rely on leveraging regulatory mechanisms that work in the US. She said that applying an approach like the European REACH approach in the US "would devastate small and medium sized companies...and do so unnecessarily since a more practical alternative is available. She suggested that "the Canadian approach to chemicals management has systematically prioritized that nation's inventory and is, therefore, much farther ahead of the EU with respect to evaluating chemicals in commerce."
Bosley also said that SOCMA supports the idea of an "inventory reset," which was part of EPA's Chemical Assessment and Management Program (ChAMP), a program that was recently discontinued. She noted that of the "over 80,000 chemicals now listed on the inventory, data suggest that only about 1/3 of these are presently in commerce." Thus, "resetting" the inventory to include only those now in production would significantly reduce the number of chemicals that need to be prioritized and categorized. Bosley suggested that "ChAMP should not have been abandoned, because it will just have to be reinstituted under another name."
Bosley said that we should "embrace TSCA mechanisms that have worked well, like the New Chemicals Program," which through its PreManufacture Notice (PMN) process reviews over 1,000 new chemicals every year. She also encouraged everyone to recognize "the massive amount of data that was generated by EPA's High Production Volume Program and leverage that data in making initial determinations of risk." She felt that "with reasonable amendments," TSCA could provide an easier mechanism to collect data from manufacturers and users related to a) volumes manufactured, processed or used, b) health effects, and c) exposure characteristics.
Finally, she noted that the "safety" standard used by EPA to make determinations should involve:
1) Not overlooking the basic principle of risk (i.e., the evaluation of both hazard and exposure, not just hazard),
2) Not let EPA get burdened with having to determine that each chemical is safe for its intended use (i.e., chemicals need to be prioritized so that only those really of concern should need to be evaluated in depth, and for only those uses that are of concern), and
3) EPA must be adequately funded no matter what approach Congres takes in modernizing TSCA. Bosley noted that "the biggest shortcoming of the TSCA program today is lack of resources, not lack of authority."
Well, that summarizes all of the witnesses who testified at the November 17, 2009 House subcommittee hearing. This is the follow up to a House hearing held back on February 26, 2009, which I discussed earlier.
In addition to the in-person witnesses there was some written testimony provided to the subcommittee. There were also statements published by several other interested stakeholders such at the American Chemistry Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Working Group, and others. I'll be reviewing these in the coming days. I'll also be providing some critical analysis contrasting the different viewpoints and looking at what a final bill might look like.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
This is a continuation of my series taking a closer look at the November 17, 2009 Congressional hearings on "Prioritizing Chemicals for Safety Determination." Earlier I gave an overall summary. Today I look at the testimony of William (Bill) Greggs, who is now a private Chemical and Environmental Policy Consultant but for 37 years was a chemical engineer and global chemical policy expert with the Procter & Gamble Company. Greggs was testifying on behalf of three processor and user organizations, namely the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), and the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA).
Greggs noted that "CSPA, GMA and SDA are committed to manufacturing and marketing safe and innovative products." He emphasized that the organizations agree that TSCA needs to be modernized and that it is critical that there be "development of a mechanism by which EPA will prioritize existing chemicals for review and assessment." He believes that "a priority setting process developed by Congress must be risk-based, taking into account both a chemical's hazards and potential exposures. Chemicals identified as the high priorities should be those substances with both the highest hazards and the highest potential exposures." (emphasis in original)
He noted that the three organizations have "collaborated with various industry representatives on the development of a risk-based and efficient tool that EPA can use to prioritize chemical substances." They recommend a framework that accounts for increasing levels of hazard on one axis and increasing levels of exposure on the other axis. On the hazard axis the criteria could include whether the substance was a carcinogen, mutagen or reproductive toxicant (CMR) or persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT), as well as others. For exposure axis the indicators could include the use pattern of the chemical, its biomonitoring findings (e.g., the CDC data), industrial releases as reported through the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), and whether the chemical is found in water or the air.
The belief is that this process would identify the chemicals with greatest potential risk for prioritized review. Greggs asserted that stakeholders must be allowed to review and comment on the draft assessments, and that they must be given the opportunity to "provide additional information enabling a more informed decision or to remedy erroneous results of the priority setting process." He noted that "this is a critical component Congress must include that will significantly improve the results of this very important exercise."
Greggs felt that "done properly, this priority setting process would rank all chemicals from highest to lowest in a relatively short period of time." He noted that "the complete priority setting process will take EPA some time to accomplish," and therefore he encouraged Congress "to develop an additional mechanism that will enable EPA to identify the chemicals of highest priority for immediate assessment." To accomplish this, he recommended a process "that would require EPA to screen the data from the most recent Inventory Update Rule (IUR) submissions to identify chemicals that have the highest hazards and highest potential exposures. (emphasis in original) Through this process he believes "EPA could identify 50 to 100 chemicals that could quickly move into EPA's safety assessment process while the Agency works on prioritizing the remaining chemicals in commerce" using the tool described above.
Tomorrow I will take a look at the testimony of Beth Bosley, a consultant for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA).
Saturday, November 21, 2009
This is a continuation of my series taking a closer look at the November 17, 2009 Congressional hearings on "Prioritizing Chemicals for Safety Determination." Earlier I gave an overall summary. Today I look at the testimony of Daryl Ditz, a Senior Policy Advisor for the Center for International Environmental Law.
Ditz started by saying that "despite its aspirational title, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has failed to assess, let alone guarantee, the safety of the great majority of chemicals in use today." He further suggested that "TSCA stymies action by EPA and other agencies, perpetuates a reliance on dangerous substances, leaves businesses in the dark, and undermines U.S. competitiveness." Needless to say, Mr. Ditz believes the time is right to modernize TSCA.
He offered three recommendations for fixing TSCA.
1) To expedite action, Ditz said that "Congress should authorize EPA to promptly identify and phase out non-essential uses of a set of high-priority chemicals." He believes that "a slow, cumbersome safety determination process for these high-priority chemicals is neither necessary nor appropriate." He identifies these as the "worst-of-the-worst," defined primarily as those chemicals that exhibit PBT properties, i.e., Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic. Many PBT chemicals have already been identified and are characterized by remaining largely unchanged in the environment or people's bodies for long periods of time, biomagnify up the food chain (e.g., concentrations get higher as you move from plant to animal to higher order animal), and show high toxicity. Ditz believes that the old "unreasonable risk" standard in TSCA has actually prevented EPA from taking action on chemicals it knows need to be regulated.
2) Congress should "authorize EPA to prioritize the order in which all chemicals, new as well as existing, are assessed against a health-based standard." Ditz said that industry should be required to prove the safety of their chemicals (rather than the current system in which EPA must demonstrate lack of safety). He mentioned that the 2008 Kid Safe Chemical Act (which was never passed) would have prioritized chemicals for further review, but that prioritization shouldn't be used to exclude them from review, just determine the order they are reviewed. He noted that the previous administration's ChAMP initiative was "misguided" in that in trying to sort through nearly 7000 chemicals it "wrongly labeled 'low risk'" many chemicals on the basis of inadequate and unreliable data. Ditz felt the process advocated by the American Chemistry Council in its recently released "principles for TSCA modernization" would "repeat this mistake by subjecting only a fraction of existing chemicals," often based on limited data, to a safety determination and "letting the majority of chemicals sidestep credible evaluation."
3) Congress should ensure that "up-to-date, comprehensive information is available on all chemicals, to protect the health and safety of Americans and foster confidence in the market." Ditz noted repeatedly that the quantity and quality of data available in which to do these prioritizations was severely limited for most chemicals. He said that "U.S. policy should require chemical manufacturers to develop, submit and periodically update data on the potential hazards, exposures, and uses of chemicals they manufacture or import." He insisted that minimum data requirements are needed because major data gaps limit the ability to make informed assessments.
Finally, Mr. Ditz seconded the need for CDC and other organizations to conduct biomonitoring as "an important check on human exposures in the real world." He also believes that the ongoing efforts in Europe (REACH) and Canada (Chemical Categorization Program) can be used to help inform the evaluation of chemicals in the United States.
Tomorrow I will take a look at the testimony of William J. Greggs, a consultant for the Consumer Specialty Products Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and the Soap and Detergent Association (and formerly with Procter & Gamble).