Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why TSCA Chemical Reform is Needed - The Lost Orphan Chemicals

As a Senate hearing on reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) gets underway today, word comes that EPA is working on a new rule that will mandate that companies who plan to manufacture or use dozens of High Production Volume (HPV) chemicals will have to provide the data EPA lacks before the agency will approves the new uses. The significant new use rule (SNUR) has been used before by EPA, but never to this extent. The SNUR is expected to be issued along with a new Section 4 test rule requiring data on "orphan chemicals."

And orphans are what I really want to talk about. Way back in 1998 a voluntary program called the HPV Chemical Challenge was initiated. Industry agreed to provide health and safety data on a list of about 2800 HPV chemicals, that is, chemicals that are produced at volumes of more than 1 million pounds per year. The program was supposed to be completed by 2003, later extended to 2005, and as of this writing in 2010 still has not been completed (though EPA long ago moved most of their resources to other programs). While there are many problems in compliance with the voluntary program, there were also several hundred chemicals for which no company stepped forward to sponsor. These "orphan chemicals" were the subject of three Section 4 test rules, plus the 4th that is now in preparation.

But the first one, originally proposed in 2000 but only finalized in 2006, is the only one that has actually been implemented...and then for only 17 of the original 37 chemicals proposed. The second and third test rules, covering only 19 and 29 chemicals respectively, have languished in the proposed stage as industry challenges the EPA request. Keep in mind that all EPA is doing is requiring there to be health and safety testing on chemicals that are produced in very high quantities and for which Agency experts suspect potential for hazard. Meanwhile, there are hundreds more "orphans" to be addressed, along with about 1800 other HPV chemicals for which industry did provide data and several hundred others for which industry promised to provide data but have failed to follow through.

This is just one of many examples of how the hurdles are so high for EPA under the current version of TSCA that they can't even require companies to provide health and safety testing on very high production volume chemicals. The process of even proposing such testing takes years and only a few chemicals can be addressed at a time.

Clearly the current TSCA law is broken in this respect. Perhaps today's hearing will help speed up the process of introducing the new bill. The time for action has arrived.

[Update on yesterday's post in which I suggested that perhaps Senator Boxer would be the one to sponsor the Senate version of the Kid Safe Chemical Act. However, I received a comment noting "on good authority that it is Senator Lautenberg who is writing the bill. Senator Boxer is still neck deep in Cap and Trade." Senator Lautenberg, of course, introduced the previous versions.]


Lynn from OrganicMania said...

Can't wait to hear your take on today's hearings. I was reading your synoposis of you think events will unfold..adding up the weeks, that would mean we wouldn't see a bill introduced until May, perhaps. Is that what you expect? I know there was much anticipation for something sooner...

The Dake Page said...

Hard to say since Lautenberg has been saying "soon" since last February and there needs to be an appropriate window in a very busy legislative calendar. But Earth Day is April 22 and that was the date that then-VP Gore used to announce the HPV Challenge in 1998.