Monday, June 22, 2009

NGO Reaction to the Decision to Suspend ChAMP Chemical Program

As previously noted, the Obama EPA suddenly suspended its ChAMP program last week. ChAMP was the Agency's mechanism for evaluating the data received during the voluntary HPV Challenge, in which industry agreed to provide available health and safety data on about 2200 high production volume chemicals (i.e., those produced or imported in excess of 1 million pounds per year in the US).

Yesterday I gave some of the reaction from industry. Most felt that ChAMP was a good program and didn't understand its sudden suspension. Some feel it was so the Obama administration could institute more "command-and-control" regulation over chemicals, rather than the more voluntary (and EPA-onused) ChAMP.

The non-governmental organization (NGO) reaction, on the other hand, has been generally in favor of the move. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), whose 1997 report "Toxic Ignorance" was the catalyst that led to the HPV Challenge in the first place, has been very critical of the ChAMP program. According to EDF's Richard Dennison,"[i]t probably goes without saying that EDF welcomes EPA's decision to suspend the development and posting of risk-based prioritizations under its Chemical Assessment and Management Program (ChAMP)." Dennison has been writing a series of blog posts in recent months in which he notes some of the failings of ChAMP, arguing "that ChAMP's "rush to risk" has taken EPA badly off-track." He claims, however, that "we have also identified many useful things that EPA's existing chemicals program can and should be doing with the data it obtained through the HPV Challenge (whether called ChAMP or not)," and that EDF looked "forward to working with EPA to craft a new approach, grounded in a return to developing scientifically defensible hazard, not risk, characterizations and transparently identifying and addressing data gaps and data quality problems."

Another environmental advocacy group that has been following ChAMP, and in particular has been very supportive of the proposed Kid Safe Chemical Act, is the Environmental Working Group (EWG). EWG recently launched an interactive online site "featuring news and commentary, as well as a forum for a thought-provoking exchange of ideas on reforming the nation’s federal toxic chemicals policies." According to EWG, the site "will feature analysis and opinion by scientists, lawmakers, industry officials, community activists, policy specialists, journalists and others interested in environmental health issues." A major focus of the site "will be the emerging debate over reform of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)."

Another group interested in the ChAMP and TSCA reform is the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Commenting on the EDF blog, Gina Solomon of NRDC notes that "[t]his is a very important step toward meaningful chemical reform. It was clear that EPA needed to sweep the house clean before bringing in the new furniture, and the elimination of ChAMP does exactly that. Now we can get on with the job of really reforming U.S. chemical policy." She also congratulated EDF for its series of blog stories, saying "I really think this blog brought down ChAMP!"

Many in the NGO community feel that the administration's decision to suspend ChAMP is a clear signal that "ChAMP is grossly, indefensibly ineffective." EDF's Dennison says the decision is "implicit acknowledgement" that the ChAMP prioritization process needed an overhaul. According to the ChAMP web site, as of March 2009, EPA had "developed and posted risk-based prioritizations for 220 HPV chemicals and has posted hazard-based prioritizations for 83 chemicals." The goal of the program was to develop "screening-level hazard, exposure, and risk characterizations for an estimated 6,750 chemicals produced or imported in quantities of 25,000 pounds or greater a year" by 2012.

Clearly the administration felt that the program could not accomplish those goals and that a better way was needed. According to EPA, they expect to offer a new direction some time this summer.

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