Friday, November 26, 2010

EU Moves to Ban BPA from Baby Bottles

This week the European Commission's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health moved to ban the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles beginning next spring.  BPA is an organic chemical used to make polycarbonate plastics like those in baby bottles and thousands of other plastic products.  It has come under attack as a possible endocrine disruptor, which "can mimic the body's own hormones and may lead to negative health effects."

That said, various government and regulatory bodies around the world have defined "safe levels" for humans, though new studies have raised new concerns about whether those levels truly are safe.  The problem is that effects are much more subtle and hard to define, and tests to measure (and then understand the significance of) potential endocrine disruption are still being developed.  Still, last year The Endocrine Society issued a position statement on endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Responses from the EU plastics industry and health advocacy groups was as one might expect.  Industry feels that the decision goes against the totality of the scientific evidenceHealth NGOs believe the EU action doesn't go far enough as it doesn't address other uses of BPA that also may lead to infant and child exposures.

In any case, the Commission's decision will lead to a Directive to prohibit the manufacture of BPA infant bottles by March 1, 2011 and prohibit the placing on the market and import of BPA infant bottles after June 1, 2011.  Member States have until February 15th to develop national level regulations to implement the Directive.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

EPA Goes After "Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals"

In 1996 Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, both of which included a provision requiring that EPA screen pesticide chemicals for their potential to produce effects similar to those produced by the female hormones.  The two laws gave EPA the authority to screen certain other chemicals and to include other endocrine effects. In fact, the two laws mandated action.

Fast forward to 14 years later and EPA is way behind on any effort to follow through on those mandates.  In large part this is because the technology for measuring endocrine effects just wasn't there back then (and some argue still is not there).  Throw in some political reticence to adding more regulatory burden to industry and you have a situation where action has been slow to come. 

But now EPA seems to have stepped up the activity level and has just issued its Second List of Chemicals for Tier 1 Screening. This list "includes 134 chemicals and substances that have been listed as priorities within EPA’s drinking water and pesticides programs."   It follows on the heels of "the initial list of chemicals to be screened for their potential effects on the endocrine system," which was released on April 15, 2009 and "the first test orders were issued on October 29, 2009."

Find out more about the endocrine disruptor testing program on the EPA site, including the status of test orders and EPA's policies and procedures.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No TSCA Chemical Reform This Year - What About Next Year?

The TSCA reform proposals put forth in bills by the Democratically controlled House and Senate in 2010 are now in the "didn't get to it" bin for the few weeks left in the current Congressional session.  In January the current minority party becomes the majority in the House, and closes the gap in the Senate.  So the question on everyone's mind (well, everyone that is a stakeholder interested in reform/modernization of the 34-year old TSCA law) is "What will happen in 2011?"

Or maybe 2012?

Because of the way Congress works any TSCA reform bills will need to be reintroduced in the next Congress before any action can be taken.  The House bill was introduced this past year by Democrats Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush, both of whom won reelection but will no longer be chairing the full committee and subcommittee, respectively, responsible for shepherding the law through the House.  As of this writing the Republican party had not yet determined who would take over the chairmanships of the key committee, but the contenders have been fairly public about their priorities and TSCA reform isn't necessarily at the top of their list.  The Senate will remain in Democratic control, though perhaps with a bit less leeway than this past Congress.  Senator Lautenberg has been passionate about TSCA reform (Kid Safe Chemical Act/Safe Chemical Act), but health and age may (or may not) limit his future influence.

Industry remains dedicated to modernizing TSCA, in large part because one federal law is easier to handle than 50 (or more) state, regional, and local laws.  With a likely more industry-friendly chairmanship in the House, this might be a good opportunity to get a new law passed that will keep what industry considers to be "what works" of the old law while enhancing protections for human health and the environment.  But different industry groups differ on how to go about doing that.

The advocacy community remains adamant that TSCA is outdated, and in fact never really worked well at all from a health protection point of view.  They continue to push for a new law, both through renewed activism at the state level and by putting pressure on industry to come up with "concrete proposals" for a revised law.

As is normal for situations in which party control of one or both houses of Congress changes, there will be time needed to "staff up" the committees, "feel out" the likelihood of compromise by various stakeholders, and "learn something" from ongoing international activities like the Canadian chemical management plan and Europe's REACH registration.  So we should expect not to see much overt action for at least the first six to 10 months of this next Congress (though there may be some behind the scenes wrangling going on).  That suggests that TSCA reform bills might not hit the floor until late 2011 or even into 2012.  That said, with a likely contentious presidential election year going on in 2012, there are concerns among many that TSCA reform might be a priority for a future time.