Friday, January 1, 2010

EPA Ready to Propose New Rules for Nanotechnology

Because of the less than thrilling results from the voluntary Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program initiative begun during the Bush presidency, the USEPA is planning to propose a new rule requiring manufacturers of nanomaterials to submit data on production, exposure and available safety information.

The rule, developed under Section 8 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) will be designed to “establish reporting requirements for certain nanoscale materials.” It would require manufacturers to provide information on “production volume, methods of manufacture and processing, exposure and release information, and available health and safety data." EPA would then evaluate the information and consider appropriate action under TSCA to reduce any risk to human health or the environment. Look for this Section 8 rule by June 2010.

But EPA isn't stopping there. They also plan a second rule, this one under the authority of Section 4 of TSCA, which would require manufacturers to study adverse health effects of multi-walled carbon nanotubes and nanoscale clays and alumina, which are widely used nanomaterials. The Section 4 test rule is expected sometime around November 2010.

As with the recent use of "action plans" for selected chemicals, the move signals that EPA is aggressively using what it sees as existing authority to regulate chemicals under TSCA. In the past the Agency was hesitant to push the envelope, most noticeably after a 10-year battle to ban asbestos was lost in court over the burdens of technical proof. However, the new environment is more of cooperation rather than antagonism between EPA and industry, and all parties seem to be in agreement that TSCA needs to be modernized. With that inevitability in mind, EPA is less likely to be challenged on attempts to use the data they have in-house to take action they feel is necessary.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

USEPA Issues Action Plans for Four Chemicals of Concern

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

Glowing Frogs and Other Cool Ways to Detect Pollution

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 (subscription required).

Johnson hopes that this technique can be used in the detection of pollutants in the environment.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Consumer Product Safety Commission Names Phthalate Advisory Panel Members

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

Industry Looking to Confab with Advocacy Groups on TSCA Chemical Control Reform

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.