Friday, May 21, 2010

Should US Chemical Regulation Look Like REACH? Perhaps it is Already Happening

Most in the United States agree that some form of TSCA Reform is necessary to allow EPA to better manage chemicals. On a macro-level their is broad agreement on the basic principles, though stakeholders tend to differ on the actual nuts and bolts of the proposed legislation. But one thing that you hear over and over, at least from industry, is WE DON'T WANT REACH!!

Seems Europe has a different view.

This week there has been a conference sponsored in part by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). Interested stakeholders and regulators from around the globe are in attendance. And one of the topics is the collaboration between ECHA and other world regulatory bodies. ECHA Executive Director Geert Dancet notes that "our view is 20 years time REACH could be an element of a more global system." ECHA is looking for partnerships. And this week it is already signing an accord with Environment Canada to exchange non-confidential data and best practices on data management.

ECHA is also talking the USEPA and with NICNAS (the Australian regulatory body). In fact, it is expected that by sometime this summer the US will sign an agreement similar to the one that ECHA now has with Canada. This cooperation is to be expected, since a large percentage of the chemical companies in the US also manufacture or import in Europe so are already providing data packages.

All of this means that while there are many in the US that don't want TSCA reform to look too much like REACH, it is inevitable that there will be similarities in many respects. One goal of the final version of the Safe Chemicals Act (which likely won't happen until 2011) is to find a way to collaborate with ECHA so that companies that have already provided data to REACH can seamlessly use the data to meet future US obligations.

One issue not addressed in the proposed Safe Chemicals Act is exactly how data would be provided. I'll talk about that in future posts.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

EPA Expands their Envirofacts Chemical Facilities Database

In keeping with its new policy of transparency and providing access to the public of chemical information, the USEPA has expanded their Envirofacts databases. Envirofacts provides access to a variety of databases on topics ranging from the UV Index to hazardous waste facilities to water discharge permitting to the toxic release inventory (TRI).

Now EPA has added more than 6,300 chemicals and 3,800 chemical facilities regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This follows on the heals of EPAs April proposal to add 16 chemicals to the TRI, which are chemicals that facilities must report periodically because of their highly toxic properties.

Also in April EPA made the ToxRefDB chemicals database freely accessible on the web, and it also made the public portion of the TSCA inventory available for free to everyone for the first time. They also have proposed modifications to the rules that allow companies to claim as confidential business information, which EPA feels industry has abused.

So EPA has taken unprecedented steps over the past several months to make data available to the public. Will it make much difference? Well, most of the public will not really care, and many of those who care won't really know how to interpret or use the information even if they can find it. But public accessibility is the first step in giving the public a chance to understand more. Most certainly there will public advocacy groups who will use the easier access to information to both identify problem chemicals and to educate the public.

So while having more data may create opportunities for misunderstanding by those who don't have the background to understand the context, in general I think more data accessibility is a good thing. Once the public understands how much actually is known about chemicals, especially as REACH and TSCA reform put more data on the net, it is likely that the public will gain more confidence that regulation is keeping them safe. Right now the perception is that we are surrounded by dangerous chemicals that are harming our health. With more actual data available, undoubtably we will find that isn't the case. But at the same time we will be better able to identify those cases where the risks are not considered acceptable.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review – The Climate Crisis by David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf (2010)

The IPCC AR4 report too technical for you? Want to learn about the climate change? Then this is a good book for you. “The Climate Crisis: An Introductory Guide to Climate Change” by climatologists David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf was published this year and does a decent job of explaining the status of climate science to non-scientists.

That doesn’t mean the book isn’t technical. It is chock full of color graphics, charts, tables, and photographs documenting every aspect of climate science. But the authors work hard to present the information in language that educated non-scientists and scientists and professionals in other fields can more readily understand. Overall they accomplish this goal, though I do think that parts of the book are still technical enough to confuse your “average Joe.” Conversely, I don’t think they explain some of the charts well enough – there is a tendency to have a narrative and reference a chart or graph, but then not explain the graph in detail. This is intentional as the book is designed to communicate the information on a level that non-climatologists can understand, but I did find myself wanting to drill into the figures more than was enabled.

Still, these are minor quibbles and I find the book to be a very useful addition to the reading list of anyone interested in the topic of global warming or climate change. The authors are both practicing climatologists and professors of climate science. Rahmstorf was one of the lead authors in the most recent IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (called AR4). Both contribute to the blog on the topic.

The book itself focuses on the state of the science and looks at what evidence of climate change we have already seen, what is happening with snow and ice in various parts of the world, how the oceans are changing, and how climate is measured. They also have chapters on what we might see in the future with respect to climate change, impacts of those changes, and how we can avoid the worst of it. They briefly touch on climate policy in the last chapter, but they focus on the need for action, the global nature of the cooperation required, and the differences between developed and developing nations, rather than discussing any specific policy solution.

I definitely recommend the book. Readers will find it both informative and enlightening.

National Academies of Sciences to Release Three Climate Choices Reports

The US National Academies of Sciences is planning to release on May 19, 2010 a series of three reports under the auspices of the America's Climate Choices program.

The three reports are:

Advancing the Science of Climate Change - which focuses on the scientific evidence regarding human-induced climate change and future research needs,

Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change
- which assesses options for limiting greenhouse gas emissions and taking other actions to reduce the magnitude of climate change, and

Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change - which focuses on options to improving the nation's capacity to adapt to climate change impacts.

A public briefing will be held at the National Academy of Sciences building, 2110 C St., NW, Washington DC beginning at 10 am EDT. The public is invited to the briefing and should RSVP to attend at If you can't attend in person you can also watch a live video webcast and submit questions at

Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, will deliver opening remarks, and members of the panels that authored the reports will discuss the reports findings and take questions.

NAS' America's Climate Choices also includes two additional reports that will be released later this year: one entitled "Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change" will examine how best to provide decision makers with information on climate change, while the other will be "an overarching report that looks across the topics of the four panel reports to offer an integrated view of the challenges and opportunities in the nation's efforts to confront climate change."