Thursday, November 19, 2009

Steve Owens testimony at Congressional Hearings on TSCA Chemical Control

Yesterday I gave an overall summary of the November 17, 2009 Congressional hearings regarding TSCA chemical control modernization in the House. The Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, chaired by Illinois Representative Bobby Rush, listened to a series of witnesses on the subject of "Prioritizing Chemicals for Safety Determination." See yesterday for a brief review of each testimony.

Today I take a closer look at the testimony of Steve Owens, who is the new Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. OPPTS would have the major role for EPA in any new version of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Owens made a point of reminding the Representatives that TSCA, which was enacted in 1976, is the only major environmental statute that has not been reauthorized. In addition, the TSCA Inventory was created by simply grandfathering all the existing chemicals at the time - about 63,000 of them - onto a list with the intent of reviewing them for safety considerations at some later date. After 33 years, only about 200 have been required by EPA to have any safety testing done, and "only five of these existing chemicals have been regulated under TSCA's ban authority."

Owens also noted that "today, advances in toxicology and analytical chemistry are revealing new pathways of exposure." In particular he mentioned "subtle and troubling effects of many chemicals on hormone systems, human reproduction, intellectual development and cognition, particularly in young children." He added that it was "clear that in order for EPA to properly do its job of protecting human health and the environment, TSCA must be updated and strengthened. EPA needs the tools to do the job the public expects."

He reiterated the principles introduced by Administrator Lisa Jackson in late September, which I've summarized previously.

Owens then talked about "a number of steps that EPA will be taking over the coming months to put in place a multi-pronged approach to strengthen EPA's efforts to manage industrial chemicals." He noted that the ChAMP program was reviewed and determined to be "too focused on categorizing thousands of chemicals, which would take years." He said the reviews also showed that "most of the evaluation was based on limited and incomplete test and exposure data." In short, ChAMP was a lot of effort and not much value.

Instead they are starting up an "enhanced chemical management program," which will "require that companies submit information to fill the remaining gaps in basic health and safety data on HPV chemicals." EPA also plans to "make the reporting to chemical use information more transparent, more current, more useful, and more useable by the public." In short, Owens said that Administrator Jackson directed his office "in the interim to utilize our current authority under TSCA to the fullest extent possible, including Section 6 authority to label, restrict, or ban a chemical, to ensure that we do everything we can to protect the American people from dangerous chemicals."

EPA is currently "evaluating an initial set of chemicals based on available hazard, exposure and use information." Factors used to prioritize this initial set include:

1) use in consumer products (because people may have regular exposure to them even though they usually are not of particular hazard)

2) presence in human blood (e.g., chemicals found in recent biomonitoring studies by the CDC and advocacy groups)

3) persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic characteristics (i.e., PBT chemicals, which my remain in humans or the environment for a long time without breaking down, plus are toxic)

4) toxicity (for obvious reasons)

5) production volume (the voluntary HPV Challenge programs and the EU's new mandatory REACH program also focused on chemicals made in the highest volumes)

Once prioritized, EPA plans to complete and make public a series of "action plans" that will "outline the risks that use of these chemicals may present and what steps we may take to address those concerns."

EPA would then engage with stakeholders (both manufacturers, users, and the public) to prioritize additional chemicals for evaluation. Owens noted that EPA plans to make new action plans available to the public every four months.

According to EPA's web site, they are currently evaluating an initial set of chemicals for action plan development, including:

* Benzidine dyes and pigments
* Bisphenol A (BPA)
* Penta, octa, and decabromodiphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in products
* Perfluorinated chemicals
* Phthalates
* Short-chain chlorinated paraffins

Four of these will have action plans released in December.

And so it begins. TSCA reform is in the works and all stakeholders agree that the way the US manages chemicals needs to be modernized. I'll continue to provide updates and commentary as the process moves forward.

Tomorrow I'll talk more about what Eric Sampson at the CDC had to say about the value of biomonitoring in prioritization efforts.

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