Friday, September 10, 2010

Does the BPA debate epitomize the need for reform of the TSCA chemical law?

At least one person thinks so.  Writing in the online OnEarth Magazine, Wendy Gordon believes that the seemingly endless debate over BPA - the chemical used in myriad plastic bottles and other products - is a strong signal of the need for TSCA reform.  She laments that "[a]fter more than 10 years of research involving hundreds of studies, government health officials according to The New York Times (September 6, 2010) "still cannot decide" whether the science is adequate to regulate BPA more strictly, an action the Food and Drug Administration has the authority to take but just won't, or can't...or would rather put off until after the next round of studies."

And herein lies a recurring problem with chemical regulation.  How much data are enough?  Rarely are the data so overwhelmingly clear that a particular chemical will definitely create adverse effects that the path forward is obvious to regulators, industry, and NGOs alike.  Rather, the norm is that there are some data that suggest, maybe even strongly suggest, that there are concerns.  But then the realities of decision-making come into play. What is the threshold of concern for taking action?  Should BPA, as an example, be banned outright based on the data we have?  Or should more studies be conducted to dig deeper into the specific concerns suggested by earlier studies?  These are often more value judgments than clear scientific direction.

The answer is that we don't have an answer. Each case will be different as the circumstances of hazard and exposure will be different from one chemical to another and one use pattern to another.  Which is why the debate seems to go on and on with no resolution.  Given the significant business and personal consequences of making the wrong decision - banning something that doesn't need to be or not banning something that should be - clearly a better process is required.

Will the proposed TSCA reform bills now sitting idle in the House and Senate be that better process?  It seems like it could be a moot point given the current predictions for the fall elections in the US.  No matter what happens in November the bills will have to be reintroduced in the next congress and the debate will start anew.  But the direction the bills take could be significantly affected by the make up of the two bodies of governance.

Or perhaps, as Wendy Gordon suggests, we will just see the continuation of "endless debate."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Global Warming Requires Global Action According to UN

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for "global leadership" and a "new way of thinking" in dealing with climate change.   Speaking at Liechtenstein's Vaduz-Saal, the UN chief emphasized the world has become a smaller place, where the activity of 7 billion humans and growing can have global impacts.  He cautioned that "We must think green, too – an ambitious climate change agreement -- and environmental governance that protects the resource basis."  His full speech can be read here.

While all parties work to protect their own interests - the wealthy countries their status of living and the poor countries their options for the future in a world for which they largely aren't responsible.  But in another sense, we are all in this together.  This planet is the only one we have, and our actions are having dramatic and long-term effects on the climate in which future generations will have to live.  We have a responsibility to be good stewards for our children and grandchildren.  How we proceed will tell them more about us than how big the wide screen TV is that we bring home.

According to Ban Ki-moon:
What I mean, quite simply, is sovereign states coming together -- pragmatically, as partners.

I mean people transcending borders and narrow national identities to defend against common threats – and to seize common opportunities.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

European Chemicals Agency Proposes More Substances of Very High Concern

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki, Finland, last week announced the addition of 11 more substances of very high concern (SVHCs) they intend to put on the REACH candidate list.  Chemicals on the candidate list could eventually end up on Annex IX of REACH, after which they could be banned or severely restricted from the market unless "authorized" for specific uses and only for limited periods of time while alternatives are developed.

Stakeholders have until October 14, 2010 to comment on the addition of the substances to the candidate list.  So far all of those proposed have been added, totally nearly 40 to date.  Commenters are asked to focus on hazards of the chemicals since that is the focus at this point.  If companies apply for Authorization then use patterns, exposure and risk will be considered in final decision-making.

The candidate list as it currently stands can be found on ECHA's web site.

Monday, September 6, 2010

States push for TSCA chemical control law reform

ECOS, the Environmental Council of the States, held its annual meeting last week and among other activities passed a resolution calling for reform of the 34-year old Toxic Substances Control Act.  ECOS is an organization of state environmental agency leaders.

According to the resolution, which can be downloaded here, ECOS supports congressional action that would place the onus on the chemical industry to prove their chemicals are safe, to give EPA sufficient authority to ensure that chemicals are safe, including the ability to do so in a timely fashion, to provide EPA with a mechanism by which they can share confidential business information they receive with the states, to require safer alternatives (substitutes), and authorize EPA to take expedited action when a chemical presents "imminent or substantial endangerment or is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (or very persistent and very bioaccumulative whether or not it is toxic), etc.

The states have been very active in pushing for federal legislation because otherwise they would have to undertake state-level legislation, which not only is a burden to the states but a burden to industry who could be faced with complying with 50+ different state regulations.

Given the current lack of federal action likely before the mid-term elections, the states will have to wait until next year for TSCA reform on a national level.