Thursday, January 14, 2010

European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Adds 14 More "Substances of Very High Concern"

As REACH moves towards its first major registration deadline at the end of this year, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), located in Helsinki, Finland, has now added an additional 14 "substances of very high concern" (SVHC) to its candidate list. The candidate list is the first step in the Authorization portion of the REACH regulation of chemicals. Authorization is a bit of a misnomer. While it may sound good ("hey, I'm authorized to keep making my chemical"), in reality it signifies that ECHA has deemed the chemical to be hazardous enough to severely limit its current use and put it on track for a complete ban.

This is the second installment of the candidate list; the first featured 15 chemicals. These 29 chemicals will now get further evaluation and if they are determined to be sufficiently risky to put onto the Annex IV Authorization list, companies that manufacture or import them will have to apply for authorization to continue to do so. Even if they get authorization, it is likely that the volumes and uses will be significantly restricted. And on top of that, authorization requires the company to present a plan for finding a substitute. Companies may have only a few years to continue using the substance before it will be banned from the market.

Issuance of these candidate SVHC chemicals is a reminder that there are parallel tracks going on in REACH. While most companies are focused on the Registration phase (the "R" in REACH), member states and ECHA are already working on Evaluation dossiers and the candidate lists for Authorization. And for those chemicals that have been registered early, not only are they getting the automated "completeness" check, they are getting the human review for compliance. In short, ECHA is very very busy right now in cold, blustery Helsinki.

And you thought TSCA Reform in the US was the only chemical control issue on people's minds.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

EPA Administrator Jackson Expands Her Priorities from Five to Seven

Way back when Lisa Jackson offered a list of five priorities in her "First Day" memo, she promised to provide updates as time went by. Now, in a new memo to all EPA staff issued yesterday, she says that EPA has "made enormous strides on all five, and our achievements reflect your hard work and dedication." She then goes on to note that EPA has "strengthened our focus and expanded the list of priorities." She lists "seven key themes to focus the work of our agency" for 2010.

Taking Action on Climate Change: Continuing the effort to enact clean energy and climate legislation, as well as use their current authority to develop "common-sense solutions for reducing GHG emissions from large stationary sources like power plants."

Improving Air Quality: Building on the proposed stronger ambient air quality standards for ozone to "develop a comprehensive strategy for a cleaner and more efficient power sector, with strong but achievable emission reduction goals for SO2, NOx, mercury and other air toxics," as well as other critical activities.

Assuring the Safety of Chemicals: Continuing to push for "significant and long overdue progress in assuring the safety of chemicals in our products, our environment and our bodies," which includes more aggressively using their current TSCA authority.

Cleaning Up Our Communities: "Using all the tools at our disposal, including enforcement and compliance efforts, we will continue to focus on making safer, healthier communities." This includes additional strategies for Superfund, brownfields, and other challenges.

Protecting America’s Waters: Continuing "comprehensive watershed protection programs for the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes," and initiating other "measures to address post-construction runoff, water quality impairment from surface mining, and stronger drinking water protection."

Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Working for Environmental Justice: Expanding "a new era of outreach and protection for communities historically underrepresented in EPA decision-making," including "building strong working relationships with tribes, communities of color, economically distressed cities and towns, young people and others."

Building Strong State and Tribal Partnerships: EPA "must do its part to support state and tribal capacity and, through strengthened oversight, ensure that programs are consistently delivered nationwide."

Jackson notes that there will also be focus on strengthening internal operations, performance measures and agency processes. The priorities she lists will be the focus of 2010, but will also set the stage for continuing efforts beyond this year.

The full memo can be read here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

TSCA is a ch-ch-changing....Some Take Away Points from the Recent EPA Chemical Action Plans

I mentioned before that the UESPA issued four "action plans" on December 30, 2009 (which seems oh so long ago already). I followed it up with a note about how industry and EPA were "butting heads" a bit about the action plans. Today I'll offer a few "take away" points from this event.

, this is new for EPA. They have decided that they must more forcefully apply what they believe is their current authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). In Administrator Jackson's words, EPA will implement TSCA "to the fullest extent possible."

Second, EPA is showing that it intends to employ every weapon in its arsenal. The action plans include use of Section 4, Section 6, Section 5, SNURS, TRI, DfE/Green Chemistry, voluntary stewardship and international programs, etc. EPA is leaving no stone unturned.

Third, they are pushing the envelope as far as they can go. One example is the use of a Section 5(b)(4) Concern List rulemaking, which they hope to start as early as this fall. This is an unprecedented action even though the provision has been on the books since TSCA was enacted in 1976. It allows EPA to establish a "chemicals of concern" list for chemicals the Agency feels are in need of more draconian restrictions.

Fourth, this is only the beginning. Depending on industry reaction, EPA intends to push out new action plans every four months. Never has EPA acted so aggressively in the past.

Okay, enough with the "EPA makes aggressive use of existing TSCA authority" stuff. Despite these seemingly forceful actions the reality is less chilling. Most of the actions are planned for a later date. For example, while a concern list action for phthalates is planned for fall of this year, the Section 6 rulemaking isn't planned until 2012. And even here the action plan is phrased as "Consider initiating TSCA Section 6 rulemaking..." So they may "consider" it and never follow through. And even if they do, a rulemaking can take months or years to complete. Other plans have even longer target dates. So in reality most of the action right now is on planning action rather than taking action.

Another thing to take away is that the chemicals in these first actions plans are "low-hanging fruit." Most manufacturers of PBDEs have recently agreed to voluntarily phase out their production and use in the US (and some of the PBDEs are banned already in Europe and some states). Similarly, Dupont agreed a while back to phase out PFOA and related chemicals. Phthalates are already being targeted at the municipal and state levels. And short-chain chlorinated paraffins are also already being looked at closely. So to some extent EPA is just reinforcing what is already happening with respect to reducing use and exposure to these four chemicals. Obviously, future action plans would be expected to get higher in the fruit tree.

So there you have it...a few take away points from the recent EPA action plans. I'll keep up on the TSCA chemical reform process and report it here as it happens.