Friday, February 12, 2010

"Grassroots" and Federal TSCA Chemical Reform

Grassroots has become a bit of a tenuous term these days. It used to mean that local people got together and started pushing for or against some issue of concern to them. And like grass, it grows from the bottom up until there is a field of activity that impacts the issue. That was in the old days. Now it seems that grassroots means a top down manufacturing of public opinion organized by trade associations, unions, or advocacy groups.

That isn't all bad, I suppose. It can help focus the issues in such a way that local people who are busy with their daily lives can become aware of issues that impact them. The internet has given everyone (including me) a chance to blog about what they think, but also a mechanism by which lobbying organizations can affect public opinion in ways that benefit them (the lobbying organizations, not the public). I guess my concern is that it has to be clear for whom (or what) the "grassroots" are actually rooting.

As has become all too obvious in such issues as climate change, there are many organizations that sound scientific but are really front groups for lobbying efforts. They don't actually conduct science, but rather cherry pick that which can be made to appear to support their goals. While not so extreme, I have seen some organizations starting to pop up that suggest superficially that they are "non-profit" organizations interested in the social welfare of TSCA reform. They give the illusion of being grassroots when in fact they are coalitions of industry groups lobbying for changes to TSCA that maximize the benefits and minimize the obligations of industry. Nothing wrong with looking out for industry interests, just as there is nothing wrong with the advocacy organizations looking out for the public interests, but it just seems that to do so surreptitiously is unbecoming.

I'll have more thoughts on the interaction between science and policy in future pieces. And I'll continue to keep everyone up to date on the upcoming TSCA reform bill. I will also begin addressing some of the issues and questions raised in comments to this blog, so please continue to ask for and offer insights into key issues that may not be getting enough attention.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

States, Regions, and Federals - The Conflicting Interests of TSCA Chemical Reform

The perceived lack of teeth in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has led many US states to initiate their own state-level actions to regulate what they call toxic chemicals. Recently I noted that 13 states (no, not just the original 13 colonies) had released "a set of principles designed to ensure that the debate over reforming the nation’s outdated chemical policy stays focused on protecting public health and the environment."

Regional influences are also getting into the act. The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy seeks to address chemicals of concern to the Great Lakes and includes the surrounding US states and Canadian provinces.

And of course the federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued its "essential principles" for TSCA reform.

All of this virtually guarantees that a federal level modernization of TSCA will happen soon. While Senator Lautenberg could be introducing his bill any day now, introducing it doesn't mean passage into law, as can be attested by the fact that this would be the 3rd time he has introduced legislation. The key difference this time, however, is that the industry is behind "modernization." On Tuesday, for example, a new "Michigan Coalition for Chemical Safety" was formed in which "business, manufacturing, agriculture and bioscience leaders" look for a national level reform of TSCA. Not surprisingly, Michigan was one of the 13 states mentioned above. The Coalition is actually a Michigan Chapter of the national Coalition for Chemical Safety, an industry association whose mission is to "create a comprehensive overhaul of the TSCA that protects public safety, promotes industry innovation and preserves jobs." [Interestingly, Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund has had a running conversation on his blog about how the CCS is an "astroturf" group more interested in protecting their own interests than public safety.]

In any case, industry would much prefer that any changes be made at the national level to TSCA rather than a hodgepodge of state level actions that make it more difficult to comply. Which is why the major industry trade associations have been working with Senate and House members to lobby for what they see is a rational path forward. Meanwhile, health and environmental advocacy groups have been doing the same. And recently the debate seems to have finally been discovered in the blogosphere.

This last point is dangerous, in my opinion. Like the climate change debate, while the science is pretty overwhelming, the blogosphere tends to thrive on polarization. I'll have more about this in future posts.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Industry Reaction to the Senate Hearing on TSCA Chemical Reform

During the Senate hearing last week on reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Senator Vitter noted that while they were not present for in-person testimony, some industry groups had provided written testimony for inclusion in the record. Because of all the snow in Washington DC (up to 3 feet and counting, including more today) the federal government has been closed since last Friday afternoon and the testimony has yet to be posted on the EPW web site. So I thought I would highlight some of the reaction from industry as posted on their web sites.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) has been in the forefront of negotiations on chemical issues, and was the lead industry organization to agree to the voluntary High Production Volume Challenge with EPA in 1998. They represent 140 member chemical companies, including all of the largest manufacturers of chemicals in the US. In their letter they agreed that biomonitoring data "have an important role along with other hazard, use and exposure factors" in prioritization of chemicals. But they also remind the panel of a statement from the 2006 National Academy of Sciences report "[O]ur technical ability to generate new biomonitoring data has essentially exceeded our ability to interpret them." In other words, we now can measure chemicals at very low concentrations in the body, but that doesn't necessarily mean there will be any effects.

The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) also agrees that TSCA needs to be modernized. SOCMA represents over 300 member companies, but unlike ACC most of their members are small and medium-sized businesses that don't have as many resources as the big companies. SOCMA "believes that the degree of public concern about the health risks of chemical exposures is not justified by what we currently know." They too note that evidence of exposure (from biomonitoring studies) is not the same as evidence of effect.

Another trade association, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) also submitted written testimony according to Senator Vitter but apparently haven't posted it on their web site yet. NPRA represents "nearly 500 members, including virtually all U.S. refiners and petrochemical manufacturers." It's really not surprising that it hasn't been posted yet given all these associations are located in Washington DC, or as it has come to be known this past week, Arctic South.

The saga continues tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

US Takes Years to Reform Chemicals Law, China Does It in 8 Months

The original Kid Safe Chemical Act was introduced into Congress in the summer of 2005, where it sat unnoticed until it died of lack of interest. Ditto when it was reintroduced in 2008. Here in early 2010 we are still awaiting its reintroduction (again) and while there are expectations that it will actually be taken up this time, the process will be a long one. Meanwhile, China issued a draft proposal for the "Measures on Environmental Management of New Chemical Substances on May 21, 2009. It was adopted on January 19, 2010 and will enter into force on October 15, 2010.

The new Chinese chemical law includes the following key requirements:

1) Relies on a risk management concept, i.e., both hazard and exposure

2) New chemicals are classified into either "general new chemicals" or "hazardous new chemicals"

3) Data requirements are based on production volume, so that the more of a chemical you make the greater the amound of data that is required to support it (this is much like REACH in Europe)

4) In contrast, for chemicals with very small production volumes (less than 1 ton per year), the data requirements are much less.

5) Only a registered Chinese entity can register new chemicals (again, like REACH)

6) What is referred to as "serial, joint, and duplicate" notifications are acceptable, meaning some collaboration among companies to provide data is available (though it's uncertain how companies creating a new chemical can join forces with others)

7) Annual reporting and record-keeping is necessary for all producers and importers of new chemicals

It's important to keep in mind that this law only covers "new" chemicals, that is, chemicals that are not on China's Inventory of existing chemicals (like the TSCA Inventory in the US). China has other mechanisms for dealing with existing chemicals.

So how does this relate to the US TSCA reform discussions? It shows yet another country that is implementing a "no data, no market" concept that is the hallmark of the REACH regulation in Europe. As I've been saying here, expect to see some sort of base set of data required when companies apply for approval of new chemicals (which, contrary to logic, is not currently the case in the US). TSCA Reform may not be REACH, but it will shift the burden to industry to "prove" it's chemicals are safe.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What Will Be in the Kid Safe Chemical Act - Random Thoughts on TSCA Chemical Reform

I'm running a bit behind today so will give you some quick thoughts on some of the things to look out for in the new Kid Safe Chemical Act (which I presume it will still be called) to reform the old Toxic Substances Control Act law.

1) Expect to see some sort of requirement for companies to provide at least a base set of health and safety data when they apply for approval of new chemicals. Currently the PreManufacture Notification (PMN) for new chemicals only requires a company submit whatever data is "readily available," which usually means next to nothing. Figure on that changing.

2) Expect to see some way to prioritize existing chemicals for closer evaluation. Most chemicals were grandfathered onto the TSCA Inventory when the law was enacted, so about 60,000 chemicals have had virtually no review at all. (At least the other 20,000-30,000 got the cursory PMN review as new chemicals). With other countries revisiting their Inventories of existing chemicals, the pressure is on the US to do the same (though not necessarily in the same way).

3) With that in mind, expect the TSCA Inventory to be "reset." Under the ChAMP program that was shelved in mid 2009 as ineffective, there was a conceptual plan to eventually cut the Inventory of chemicals down from about 85,000 or more listed to a much smaller number to be evaluated. For years industry has been saying that the Inventory doesn't reflect the actual number of chemicals still on the market, which they have estimated to be as low as 7,000 to as many as 25,000. By resetting the Inventory to only those currently on the market EPA would accomplish two things: (1) make the list more manageable for health and safety assessment (why assess it if no one is making it), and (2) put companies in a position of having to provide adequate health and safety information for any old chemicals that they then wish to start manufacturing again.

4) Expect to see biomonitoring playing a significant role. There are two ways this could happen. One is to require biomonitoring for some chemicals if there is a concern that they may build up in the body. That seems less likely given that if there is a bioaccumulation concern it is more probable that the chemical will be severely restricted. However, it might be used in the same way that "Authorization" (the "A" in REACH) is being used in Europe, that is, as a mechanism for phasing out chemicals and replacing them with something safer. The more immediate use of biomonitoring will be to identify chemicals that will get higher priority for closer evaluation. Both stringent government programs (e.g., the CDC and NIEHS analyses) and more anecdotal private studies (e.g., the EWG study and mother who testified at the hearing) consistently show that there are dozens, even hundreds, of chemicals in our bodies. While in almost all cases the levels are far below any level that has been shown to be a problem, the fact that there is a "body burden" at all is offensive to many of the public and thus must be considered an important metric.

5) Expect some flexibility. While there likely will be a standard set of data requirements for new chemicals and old, there are many ways to fulfill these requirements other than straight animal testing. Given the lobbying power of the animal welfare groups, I would expect the new law to allow use of computer modeling, read-across from similar chemicals, and grouping techniques. This is essentially what the EPA currently does, but the onus is likely to be shifted to industry now. Also, the new law will likely allow flexibility to use the more advanced technologies as discussed in the "Toxicity Testing for the 21st Century" report and as being evaluated now in the ToxCast program. So, definitely new testing and heavier data requirements, but a more flexible approach that takes advantage of all types of sound science.

More to come!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lautenberg's Opening Statement - Feb. 4 Senate Hearing on TSCA Chemical Reform

Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D – NJ) delivered the following opening statement at a morning hearing of the Environment and Public Works subcommittee he chairs to examine the current science on public exposure to toxic chemicals.

“Let me thank everyone for being here as we focus on better protecting the health of our families by updating our chemical safety laws.

There’s no question that chemicals are essential to our modern lives.

They are used in household cleaners to kill germs. They are used in medical equipment that saves lives. They even help fight global warming by creating insulation for homes, better components for wind turbines and additives to make fuels cleaner.

But when we use these products, the chemicals in them can end up in our bodies. So in essence, the American public has become a living, breathing repository for chemical substances.

And when the chemicals used in flame retardants, plastics or rocket fuel show up in our children’s bodies, we have a potentially dangerous situation.

We can trace this problem back to the current law that governs the safety of chemicals. That law – the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA – fails to give EPA the tools it needs to protect against unsafe chemicals.

In fact, the Government Accountability Office has identified our current law as a “high risk” area of the law.

In nearly 35 years, TSCA has allowed EPA to test only 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals in the products we use every day.

What’s more, the EPA has been able to ban only five substances on EPA’s inventory of chemicals on the market.

With EPA unable to require adequate testing, our children have become test subjects.

And we are seeing the results in a dramatic increase in childhood cancers, birth defects and hormonal problems across the population.

Studies have found that as much as five percent of cancers, ten percent of neurobehavioral disorders and 30 percent of asthma cases in children are associated with hazardous chemicals.

Our children should not be used as guinea pigs. So it’s time to update the law and protect them.

Led by our friend from New Jersey Lisa Jackson and Assistant Administrator Steve Owens, who is here with us today, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken steps to try to reduce the risks from chemicals.

But they cannot protect our children with one hand tied behind their back.

That’s why I will soon introduce a bill that will overhaul our nation’s chemical laws.

My safer chemicals bill will have a simple goal: force chemical makers to prove that their products are safe before they end up in a store, in our homes, or in our bodies.

We already regulate pesticides and pharmaceuticals this way – it’s just common sense that we do the same for chemicals that are used in everyday consumer products.

Everyone from chemical manufacturers, to businesses that use chemicals in their products, to environmental, labor and health groups have called for reforming our chemical laws.

We cannot waste this opportunity.

I will be reaching out in the coming weeks to our colleagues – Republicans and Democrats alike – to support my safer chemicals bill.

This is a problem that affects us all, and we should all be committed to working on the solution.

It's clear that Senator Lautenberg understands how important chemicals are to all Americans, and in fact, everyone in the world. But it's also clear that he believes the old way of regulating chemicals is severely out of date and it is time to modernize the law.

I'll have more on the Senate hearings all week.

You can view the archived webcast and connect to each of the presentations at the EPW web site.