Friday, April 15, 2011

Senator Lautenberg Introduces the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 - Similar Song, Same Ending?

Senator Frank Lautenberg has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011.  He had introduced a similar bill last year, and bills also versions in 2008 and 2005, all in the hopes of reforming/modernizing the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.  The new bill builds on the 2010 bill by incorporating feedback received in a series of hearings with "industry leaders, public officials, scientists, doctors, academics, and non-profit organizations."

Changes made to improve the bill include inclusion of risk-based prioritization categories, for which industry lobbied and the EPA likes because it allows them to "focus...resources on the highest-risk chemicals." As with the earlier bill it requires chemical companies to "submit basic hazard and exposure data to quickly determine the risk and assess the need for further testing or restrictions."

Of course, the real question is less what is in the bill as whether it will ever be taken up by the Senate.  Previous bills never made it out of committee, and given the unlikelihood of the Republican-held House introducing a similar bill, we may just see the Senate bill languish in committee once again.  Then again, the Senate is still controlled by the Democrats (at least until the next election) and Lautenberg has shown amazing persistence and passion for protecting human health and the environment, so we may see the Environment and Public Works Committee hold hearings in an attempt to set the stage for action in future Congresses.

A summary of Lautenberg's bill as presented in his press release is below. Click on the links for The Text or A Summary of the bill.

Highlights of the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011”
 Provides EPA with sufficient information to judge a chemical’s safety.  Requires manufacturers to develop and submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, while also preventing duplicative or unnecessary testing and encouraging the use of rapid, low-cost, non-animal tests that provide high quality data.  EPA will have full authority to request additional information needed to determine the safety of a chemical.

Prioritizes chemicals based on risk.  Calls on the EPA to categorize chemicals based on risk, and focus resources on evaluating those most likely to cause harm.

Takes fast action to address highest risk chemicals.  Requires EPA to take fast action to reduce risk from chemicals that have already been proven dangerous.  In addition, the EPA Administrator is given authority to act quickly if any chemical poses an imminent hazard.

Ensures safety threshold is met for all chemicals on the market.  Places the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their chemicals.  All uses must be identified and determined safe for the chemical to enter the market or continue to be used.

Creates open access to reliable chemical information.  Establishes a public database to catalog the chemical information submitted to the EPA by manufacturers, as well as the safety determinations made by the EPA.  The EPA will impose requirements to ensure the information collected is reliable.

Promotes innovation and development of green chemistry.  Establishes grant programs and research centers to foster the development of safe chemical alternatives, and brings some new chemicals onto the market using an expedited review process.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

EPA Announces Two More Chemical Action Plans

The USEPA has finally released two more chemical action plans.  These new plans "address the potential health risks of methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), toluene diisocyanate (TDI), and related compounds."  According to EPA, diisocyanates are used to make polyurethane polymers, but they were clear to point out that "most polyurethane products, such as foam mattresses or bowling balls, are fully reacted or "cured," and are not of concern."  They are concerned, however, about other products "such as adhesives, coatings, and spray foam," that would be expected to "continue to react while in use, and may contain "uncured" diisocyanates to which people may be exposed."

According to EPA, diisocyanates "are known to cause severe skin and breathing responses in workers who have been repeatedly exposed to them. The chemicals have been documented as a leading cause of work-related asthma, and in severe cases, fatal reactions have occurred."

“There has been an increase in recent years in promoting the use of foams and sealants by do-it-yourself energy-conscious homeowners, and many people may now be unknowingly exposed to risks from these chemicals,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “EPA is working to protect the health of the American people and the environment.”

Proposed actions include data call-in rules, exposure monitoring studies for consumer products, and possibly bans or restrictions on consumer products containing uncured MDI or TDI.

More information about spray polyurethane foam can be found on EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) web site.  The action plans are found on the specific pages for MDI and TDI as linked on their initials above.

The action plans are how EPA is dealing with the lack of TSCA reform legislation; essentially better utilizing the authority it believes it has under the current TSCA law.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Republicans Schedule Three Hearings This Week to Limit EPA Authority on Clean Air Act

The Republican majority in the US House of Representatives, in particularly those chairing subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has scheduled three hearings this week in their continuing attempts to limit EPA authority.  The ranking Democrat on the Committee, Henry Waxman, yesterday sent a letter to Republican Representatives Fred Upton, Ed Whitfield, and John Shimkus complaining that the Committee is not giving adequate notice to EPA officials of the hearings.

The result of this "insufficient notice" has been that EPA is unable to provide a witness for two of the three hearings.

The three hearings as noted in Waxman's letter and in the online Congressional newspaper The Hill are:

·        On Wednesday, April 13, the Energy and Power Subcommittee will hold a legislative hearing on draft legislation to amend the Clean Air Act as it relates to drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

·        On Thursday, April 14, the Environment and Economy Subcommittee will hold a legislative hearing on H.R. 1391, legislation to amend the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act to block an EPA proposal designed to ensure the safe disposal of coal ash.

·        On Friday, April 15, the Energy and Power Subcommittee will hold a hearing on five rulemakings under the Clean Air Act and one under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.  The Clean Air Act rulemakings address toxic air pollutants, including mercury, from a variety of different types and sizes of sources.  The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act rule addresses the definition of solid waste.  Draft legislation relating to these rulemakings is expected to be circulated during the week.
According to Waxman, EPA was not contacted about the hearing until after it was publicly announced, a trend that goes against historical practice in which the chair (including Waxman when the Democrats were in the majority) would reach out to relevant organizations weeks in advance of a hearing in order to allow time for them to prepare a response to any concerns.

Waxman also called for "a second legislative hearing on the Clean Air Amendment that will be examined by the Committee" in order to give EPA a chance to provide a witness to testify. 

The Hill article, including the full letter by Waxman to the Republican Chairs, can be read here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

EPA Announces Plan of Action to Address Four IRIS Assessments

The USEPA  will be taking a closer look at "four draft Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessments that were placed on hold in June 2010, pending a review of some of the underlying studies relied on in the assessments." The four assessments are methanol, methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), ethyl tertiary-butyl ether (ETBE), and acrylonitrile. 

These assessments have been on hold now for nearly a year because a National Toxicology Program (NTP) report questioned research completed by "the Ramazzini Institute, a lab in Italy that conducts animal testing to evaluate the potential cancer-causing effects of chemicals."   According to a previous press release:
NTP researchers reportedly raised questions about findings at the Ramazzini Institute, a controversial Italian animal testing lab that studies chemical carcinogenicity. The Institute has long been criticized by the chemical industry, particularly over its findings that aspartame sweetener can cause cancer.
EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) "decided to jointly sponsor an independent Pathology Working Group (PWG) review, in cooperation with the Ramazzini Institute, of selected studies, including the methanol cancer assessment study. The review has begun and will continue over the next several months. The results will be made public and the cancer assessment for methanol will remain on hold until its completion."
The USEPA announcement can be read here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

ECHA Publishes New Guidance on Labelling and Packaging of Chemicals

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) last Friday issued yet another new guidance document related to the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and Classification, Labeling and Packaging (CLP) regulations.  The newest guidance document "gives more details on labelling and packaging than the earlier Guidance on the Application of the CLP Criteria."

In particular, the guidance clarifies:
  • what aspects to consider when estimating the label size needed;
  • what types of supplemental information are possible, and where to place this information on the label;
  • the conditions for small packaging exemptions;
  • the interaction between CLP and the transport labelling rules;
  • how to select the most appropriate set of precautionary statements for the label;
  • the transitional provisions for substances and mixtures already on the market.
According to ECHA, "the new stand-alone guidance document replaces the sections dealing with labelling and selection of precautionary statements of the existing Guidance on the Application of the CLP Criteria."

The Guidance on Labelling and Packaging can be downloaded as a PDF document here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cefic and Egypt Sign Cooperative Agreement on Chemical Safety

This past week the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) signed a cooperative agreement with the Chamber of Chemical Industries (CCI) of Egypt such that the two trade associations could collaborate "on areas that impact the chemicals industry in Egypt and the European Union."  According to the Cefic press release:

The signed six-point agreement includes cooperation on topics such as legislation, application of regulations, as well as trade and investment flows between the two regions. The memorandum delegates the Egyptian group to coordinate the Responsible Care initiative through its FEI Environmental Compliance office. It also details how both groups will consider how consultations and information exchange can take place on regulatory matters such as customs and REACH legislation.  

Responsible Care® is "a global initiative of the chemical industry to drive continuous improvement in its health, safety and environmental performance and to make a strong contribution to sustainable development. Responsible Care was first launched in 1985 in Canada and is now run by the national/regional chemical associations in more than 50 countries around the world."

More information is available on the Cefic web site.