Saturday, January 15, 2011

South Korea expected to release a REACH-like chemicals law soon

With companies that make or import chemicals into Europe still reeling from the first deadline of REACH registration, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) in South Korea is planning to release a new chemicals law shortly.  The new law, the Chemical Regulation and Evaluation Act, is currently undergoing internal review within the MOE and other relevant government ministries and is expected to be released in late February for public comment.

Other countries have also been working on REACH-like chemicals laws, including Turkey, China, and many others.  In the US the talk of reforming the 34-year old Toxic Substances Control Act is in limbo.  Bills were introduced in both the House and Senate in 2010, but with the Republican party gaining control of the House and closing the gap in the Senate (and with hopes of taking over the Senate in 2012), the future of TSCA reform is highly uncertain at this point.

More details on Korea REACH and TSCA reform as they develop.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New California Study Shows High Incidence of Chemicals in Pregnant Women

A study published online today in Environmental Health Perspectives shows widespread evidence of many common chemicals in pregnant women.  The authors, who are at the University of California in San Francisco, "analyzed biomonitoring data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) to characterize both individual and multiple chemical exposures in U.S. pregnant women."  Data for a total of 268 women were examined for 163 chemical analytes in 12 chemical classes.  According to the abstract,
We calculated the number of chemicals detected within the following chemical classes; polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), organochlorine pesticides, and phthalates, and across multiple chemical classes. 
Results showed that "the percent of pregnant women with detectable levels of an individual chemical ranged from 0 to 100 percent."  For "certain PCBs, organochlorine pesticides, PFCs, phenols, PBDEs, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and perchlorate" there was detection in "99 to 100% of pregnant women."  Interestingly, while much is being said about levels in pregnant women, the authors report that these levels were "similar or lower than levels in non-pregnant women."

Needless to say, the fact that pregnant women can be exposed to, and have detected, multiple chemicals raises the risk of transferring those chemicals to the growing fetus.  Other studies have demonstrated that umbilical cord blood and newborns often may already carry a body burden of chemicals.  Advocacy groups like Safer Chemicals Healthy Families were quick to jump on the results, saying:
"These findings should be a call to action for Congress and the Administration." said Andy Igrejas, director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. "We've known for years that exposures in the womb to toxic chemicals have a profound effect on the health of children. Here we have confirmation that pregnant women are carrying these chemicals around in their bodies." 
TSCA reform bills, of course, were introduced in the last Congress and are expected to be ignored by the newly elected Congress, though both industry and advocacy groups hope that the new House leadership will make some effort to modernize the 34 year old law.  All parties seem to agree that a new law is needed; the questions now are what such a law would look like, and more fundamentally, whether any action will be taken at all given the divided Congress.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2010 - Warmest Meteorological Year, Tied for Warmest Calendar Year

The warming of the planet has been on a bit of a tear lately, with most of the hottest mean global annual temperatures occurring in the last 10-15 years.  Last month the National Air and Space Administration (NASA), one of the major climate science research agencies in the world, announced that the 2010 Meteorological Year (which runs from Dec. 2009 to Nov. 2010) was the warmest in NASA's 130-year historical record.  This week another climate research agency, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reported that the 2010 calendar year (Jan. 1 through Dec 31) was tied with 2005 as the warmest in the record.

The NASA-reported Meteorological Year data show ocean and land average global temperature as 14.65˚C, which is 0.65˚C warmer than the average global temperature of the reference period between 1951 and 1980.  NOAA's data for the calendar year show that the average temperature in 2010 was 58.12˚F, the same as in 2005, both of which are 1.12˚F above the 20th-century average of 57˚C.

Overall, it was the 34th straight year that the average global temperatures were above the baseline average.  And this year did so despite the presence of a La Nina in the eastern Pacific, a phenomenon that generally dampens the warming effects somewhat.  The January to December 2010 (calendar) year temperature anomalies can be seen in the graphic below (source: NOAA National Climatic Data Center).

The bottom line is that the planet continues to warm dramatically.  According to NCDC, "the decadal global land and ocean average temperature anomaly for 2001–2010 was the warmest decade on record for the globe, with a surface global temperature of 0.56°C (1.01°F) above the 20th century average. This surpassed the previous decadal record (1991–2000) value of 0.36°C (0.65°F)."

For more of the NOAA data, check out the National Climate Data Center web site.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2011 - International Year of Chemistry

For some reason I thought of Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery as I typed the title of this post.  In any case, 2011 has been officially declared the International Year of Chemistry by the UN General Assembly and led by IUPAC, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.  The main goals are to "increase the public appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs, to encourage interest in chemistry among young people, and to generate enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry. According to their web site:
The International Year of Chemistry 2011 (IYC 2011) is a worldwide celebration of the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humankind. Under the unifying theme “Chemistry—our life, our future,” IYC 2011 will offer a range of interactive, entertaining, and educational activities for all ages. The Year of Chemistry is intended to reach across the globe, with opportunities for public participation at the local, regional, and national level.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents much of the chemical industry in the United States, issued a press release in support of IYC 2011.  ACC said:
Chemistry—our life, our future,” is the slogan of IYC 2011. During the year, a global chemistry experiment will be performed by many thousands of school children across the world, potentially becoming the biggest chemical experiment ever conducted.  Under the theme, “Water: A Chemical Solution,” students will focus on modules that examine the properties of their local water and the technological solutions chemistry makes available to humanity in supplying clean drinking water.  The global experiment will promote the goals of the IYC, including generating enthusiasm for science among young people around the world.

Experiment modules can be carried out by children of all ages in schools across all continents because they are adaptable to the skills and interests of students, and use equipment that is widely available at little or no cost.  Results will be electronically showcased as an interactive global data map at the end of 2011, demonstrating the value of international cooperation in science.

Besides the goals stated above, IYC 2011 will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Madame Curie’s Nobel Prize and the founding of the International Association of Chemical Societies.

More information on events and how you can get involved are on their web site at

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

House Energy and Commerce Committee Gets New Chairs

No, not new furniture.  New Subcommittee chairs to go along with the Committee Chair, which went to Fred Upton of Michigan a few weeks ago.  Upton has now finished making assignments of chairs for the key Subcommittees.  According to Upton:
"We could not have a more talented and accomplished group of members on Energy and Commerce, ready to deliver the change the American people expect and demand," said Upton. "From repealing the job-killing health law to fighting rampant regulations, these subcommittees will be on the front lines as we work to fulfill our pledge to the American people to create jobs, cut spending, and reduce the size of government."
The Republican subcommittee chairs are:

Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade: Chair – Mary Bono Mack (CA)

Subcommittee on Communications and Technology: Chair – Greg Walden (OR)

Subcommittee on Energy and Power: Chair – Ed Whitfield (KY)

Subcommittee on Environment and Economy: Chair – John Shimkus (IL)

Subcommittee on Health: Chair - Joe Pitts (PA)

Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: Chair – Cliff Stearns (FL)

It should also be mentioned that Joe Barton (TX) will be "Emeritus Chair" of the Committee as a sort of consolation prize for losing out to Upton.  The rest of the Republican subcommittee members can be seen here.

Henry Waxman, who chaired the committee during the last Congress, will be ranking Democratic member on the committee.  The Democrats have not yet named the ranking members of the subcommittees, but a list of the committee members can be found here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Several Hundred Chemicals Classified as Carcinogens, Mutagens or Reproductive Toxins under REACH

As I noted last week, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) received 3,114,835 notifications of 24,529 substances under its Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) regulation. The deadline for notifying chemical classifications was January 3, 2011.  This includes those substances notified separately as well as classifications included in the November 30, 2010 REACH registration deadline.

The REACH registration deadline was for all substances manufactured or imported in the EU at greater than 1000 metric tons per year, but also for substances that met certain "very high concern" criteria no matter what tonnage at which they were on the market.  According to the ECHA registration numbers, about 400 substances registered met the criteria for being at least one (and possibly all three) of carcinogenic, mutagenic or a reproductive toxin (called CMR for short).  Another 150 or so were considered highly toxic to aquatic life.  These "substances of very high concern" (SVHCs) will get particular scrutiny as ECHA turns to evaluating the data dossiers received.  In fact, nearly 30 of these have already been identified by ECHA in their series of candidate list proposals.  Substances on the candidate list are likely then move to the Authorization Annex of REACH, which requires manufacturers to apply for "authorization" to continue producing the substance - though any authorization will be both time-limited (with a requirement to find a substitute within a short transition period) and use-limited (i.e., will only be authorized for very specific uses in which suitable health and environmental protections will be required to limit exposure during the transition period).

The next registration deadline under REACH is June of 2013 for substances of medium levels of production and use in the EU.  But in the interim REACH is undergoing an evaluation of the program to determine if changes are needed to improve both logistics and effectiveness.  Enforcement by the member states will also now be occurring, which likely will raise other issues in need of being addressed.