Friday, October 15, 2010

Canada Declares Bisphenol A (BPA) Toxic...Will the US Follow Suit?

The Canadian government has formally labeled Bisphenol A, commonly called BPA, as "toxic," and added it to Schedule I of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999.  They now will propose mechanisms to protect human health and the environment from the risks of BPA exposure.  They have already banned the use of polycarbonate baby bottles that contain BPA.   The assessment also offers additional recommedations for removing or restricting BPA use in food contact materials and cosmetics, as well as provisions for recycling and limiting discharges in industrial effluents. Ironically, this announcement comes only days after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reaffirmed its belief that BPA is safe for use in food-contact items.

 More information can be found on the assessment web page.

The question now turns to what will happen in the United States.  The USEPA had already issued an "action plan" for BPA under their current TSCA authority.  In that plan the EPA noted that it was considering a 5(b)(4) rulemaking to "identify BPA on the Concern List as a substance that may present an unreasonable risk of injury to the environment on the basis of its potential for long-term adverse effects on growth, reproduction and development in aquatic species at concentrations similar to those found in the environment."  They also were considering initiating a section 4 rulemaking to obtain more data and work on a collaboration with industry to find alternatives under EPA's "Design for the Environment" program.

Interestingly, EPA was not initiating any action based on concerns for human health, as they felt that particular area was too uncertain to take action at that time.  It seems Canada has disagreed.

So it remains to be seen whether the Canadian action will spawn similar action in the US.  Whether or not this happens it seems clear that state and local jurisdictions are not waiting for EPA and/or FDA; they are initiating their own restrictions and bans.

A PDF of the EPA action plan can be found here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Obama Lifts Gulf Oil Drilling Moratorium...Earthjustice Files a Lawsuit

Earlier this week the Obama administration lifted the temporary moratorium of offshore oil drilling the the Gulf of Mexico.  The moratorium was put in place after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil leak and lifted after BP demonstrated (at least enough) that they could avoid a recurrence.  The very next day a coalition of environmental and health advocacy groups led by Earthjustice filed a petition to EPA under the Clean Water Act to revisit the process of assessing the toxicity of chemical dispersants such as those used to "clean up" the Deepwater spill.  According to their press release:
“Unprecedented use of toxic dispersants during the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster without prior scientific study and evaluation on the effect to Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystems and human health was a horrific mistake that should never have been allowed to happen,” said Clint Guidry of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. “Potential ecosystem collapse caused by toxic dispersant use during this disaster will have immediate and long term effects on the Gulf's traditional fishing communities’  ability to sustain our culture and heritage.”

Earthjustice is no stranger to filing lawsuits and writing reports in an effort to protect the environment. Last month they published a report on the "toxic threat" of coal ash "to our health and environment" and are lobbying to get EPA to strengthen their proposed coal ash rule.

For their current filing Earthjustice wants EPA to require additional toxicity testing and ingredient disclosure.  When Deepwater happened it was determined that EPA really didn't have suitable toxicity data on the main dispersant used or its alternatives, and they rushed to do some toxicity testing.  Of course, this took time, and basically was meaningless as BP had to keep using the original dispersant while EPA "did research."  Earthjustice wants this research to be done now, and for companies to have to reveal what is actually in the dispersant mixes likely to be used.
“We need to make sure that we understand the full effects of dispersants on the environment and human health,” said Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller. “And when dispersants are used, we need to be sure they are as safe as possible.”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

USEPA Strategic Plan Announces a "5-Year Plan" of Priorities

 The USEPA last week released it's Strategic Plan for Fiscal Year 2011-2015, which serves as the framework for its work for the next five years.  According to the announcement, "the five strategic goals for advancing the agency’s environmental and human-health mission are:"

Taking action on climate change and improving air quality
Protecting America’s waters
Cleaning up communities and advancing sustainable development
Ensuring the safety of chemicals and preventing pollution
Enforcing environmental laws

The plan also introduces five of what EPA calls "cross-cutting fundamental strategies which set clear expectations for changing the way EPA does business in achieving its results:"
  • Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism
  • Working for Environmental Justice and Children’s Health
  • Advancing Science, Research, and Technological Innovation
  • Strengthening State, Tribal, and International Partnerships
  • Strengthening EPA’s Workforce and Capabilities 
The full 5-year strategic plan can be downloaded here as a PDF file.  I'll have more on each goal in future posts.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

EPA's Office of Research and Development Has an Ecotoxicology Database? Who Knew?

One of the USEPA's offices is the Office of Research and Development (ORD).  Based in Washington DC, ORD is run by Assistant Administrator Paul Anastas, whom you may have heard known as the "Father of Green Chemistry" for his research on "the design, manufacture, and use of minimally-toxic, environmentally-friendly chemicals."  As its name suggests, ORD is in the forefront of doing research on a variety of fronts.

One of the things done at ORD is the provision of research resources such as the ToxCast program, and databases of chemical data, such as the IRIS and ECOTOX databases.

ECOTOX, which is short for "ecotoxicology" data such as toxicity to fish, invertebrates and aquatic plants, as well as terrestrial organisms, is a resource open to the public, industry, and academics.  It "integrates three previously independent databases...into a unique system which includes toxicity data derived predominately from the peer-reviewed literature."  And it is easy to use.  Assuming you know something about the chemicals you are looking for and how to interpret the toxicity results you'll obtain.

Users can click on the "Quick Database Query" to hunt for test results on specific chemicals, or use the "Advanced Database Query" to fine tune your search.  You can run just the aquatic search, or just the terrestrial search, or both.  The results come in table form for easy scanning, with a "View Details" link to more information about the study, including dose response information, application frequency, details about the test species and exposures, etc.  And most importantly, the database tells you what published study the data came from so you can look up the original source (which I highly recommend).

ECOTOX is just one of several databases made accessible by EPA and other agencies.  Periodically I will mention them here so start bookmarking!

Monday, October 11, 2010

As REACH deadline approaches, European Chemicals Agency holds a stakeholders day

The first registration deadline for REACH, the European chemicals law, is fast approaching.  Manufacturers and importers of chemicals in Europe in excess of 1000 tonnes per year are required to submit extensive health and safety data dossiers in order to get - or stay - on the market.  To facilitate this effort the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki, Finland, held the 5th in its series of stakeholder days on October 4th.

The 5th Stakeholder's Day focused on three main topics:

1) Registration and Classification and Labeling Notification: Besides the registration obligations, companies also have the obligation to notify their substances for classification and labeling. They can do this either as part of their registration package, or if their registration isn't due until one of the next deadlines (in 2013 and 2018) they must submit a separate notification effective December 1, 2010.

2) Registration, Evaluation and Notification - Best Practice: Keeping in mind that REACH is an acronym, besides being mindful of Registration obligations, chemical companies and downstream users must also pay attention to the potential for Evaluation of their chemicals by member states, as well as the already mentioned Notification obligations.

3) Authorization: How to Select Candidate Substances: The "A" in REACH is Authorization and ECHA has been busy coming out with "candidate lists" of chemicals they feel are "substances of very high concern" and should be put into Annex XIV.  The ECHA stakeholder's gave their experiences to date and got feedback from the agency.

More information on the meeting, video recordings, and copies of the presentations can be found on the stakeholder's day web site at ECHA.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Book Review - Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

This book made me angry.  And it should make you angry as well.  The title "Merchants of Doubt" comes from the famous line of a tobacco company executive many years ago, that their goal was to "manufacture doubt" in the minds of the public and policy-makers so that no policy-making action would occur, or at least so that it should be delayed as long as possible.  And the tobacco industry succeeded for decades after they themselves knew that tobacco/nicotine was addictive, and caused cancer

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway are science historians.  What they have uncovered with this book is how just a handful of scientists and their collaborators have had a hand in nearly every major science denial episode for the last 40 years.  And in the center of it all is the George C. Marshall Institute, Fred Seitz, S. Fred Singer, William Nierenberg and Robert Jastrow.

After the tactics were perfected in the fight to deny that smoking causes cancer, these handful of men with close ties to the Reagan and conservative ideologies employed them over and over again to deny that smokestack emissions causes acid rain, CFCs causes ozone depletion, second hand smoke causes cancer in non-smokers, and greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming.  In all cases the science has been right, and this group of men helped delay action for many years until even their deceit couldn't hide the truth.

And those tactics, repeated to deny the science in each of these issues, were all the same: employ a few scientists willing to shill for the industry or who are "skeptical" (to create the illusion of credibility), focus the efforts through well-funded right wing think tanks (to create the illusion of independence), create "new" science specifically designed to create uncertainty (i.e., not to answer questions, but to create contrasting data they can misrepresent), hyperventilate about how "the science is not settled" (knowing that science is never settled, as there is always more research that can be done), and of course, using their PR skills, Frank Luntz wordsmithing, and punchy catchphrases like "sound science" to make it sound like they are saying something when they are not saying anything.

What I found amazing was how the origins of the George C. Marshall Institute and all of its subsequent science denialism came out of the cold war fight against communism.  These handful of scientists were atomic bomb builders and astrophysicists who had no expertise in any of the science they were denying.  But they had connections, most notably with the Reagan administration and the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) for which the George C. Marshall Institute was started to sell to the public, the military, and conservative legislators.  Yet despite this lack of any expertise they continued to insert themselves into the acid rain debate, the CFC debate, the second hand smoke debate, and the climate change debate.  And each and every time their goal was to push the denial of the science.  They equated environmentalism with communism ("green on the outside, red on the inside").  And using their lobbying skills and influence they were able to create the impression that there was still a raging debate in the science, even though in all cases the science was overwhelming and they represented a very minority opinion (and an opinion not backed by any science).  Actually, in all cases they were not being scientists at all, but rather advocates for non-action (all of these men had long-since stopped doing actual research, and none of them had ever done research in the areas of science they were denying).

What is most disturbing is that they routinely employed unscientific methods and deceit to wage personal attacks on scientists, including taking advantage of Roger Revelle on his death bed, then going after his student Justin Lancaster, then Ben Santer and now climate scientists like Michael Mann and Phil Jones have become the victims of the latest iterations of harassment in the denialist industry's tactics.

Oreskes and Conway end their book with "A New View of Science," which I'll let people read for themselves.  And they should.  In fact, they must.  This book must be on the reading list of anyone and everyone interested in science, so they can read for themselves how just a handful of unscrupulous scientists with deep political connections and a near religious anti-communism fervor have been at the heart of every denial of science in the last several decades. 

Other science book reviews