Friday, August 12, 2011

EPA Seeks Public Comment on Industry Petition for Guidance on Endocrine Disruptor Chemicals

The USEPA on August 10, 2011 published a notice in the Federal Register "seeking public comment on a June 21, 2011 petition" from three major trade associations requesting the Agency "develop and publish guidance explaining the criteria by which EPA will make its decisions on data received in response to the test orders issued under the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program" (EDSP).

Almost two years ago EPA initiated the EDSP Tier 1 screening for a list of 67 chemicals for the potential of being endocrine disruptors.  Orders for testing were issued in the months following, with manufacturers of the initial list of chemicals being required to conduct eleven Tier I screening assays.  The goal of the suite of assays is to "determine the potential for a chemical to interact with estrogen, androgen and thyroid hormone systems."  Chemicals that were identified as possible disruptors could be subject to a second tier of assays designed to further evaluate and quantify endocrine effects. Last month the Inspector General faulted EPA for not moving fast enough to identify endocrine disruptor chemicals, and this response is unlikely to speed up the process.

Herein lies the reason for the industry petition.  Despite efforts to develop higher level assays, the exact assays to be required and the criteria for selecting them remains uncertain.  Crop Life America (CropLife), the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), and the Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE) filed the petition in an effort to better understand how EPA will use the Tier 1 screening data.  Particularly, the trade associations want EPA to "fully analyze the Tier 1 screening data received in response to the list 1 test orders and revise the guidance to be developed to reflect what is learned by the analysis in order to ensure scientifically sound determinations and to protect the public health and the environment."  In other words, what exactly are you going to do with the data received, and can you at least figure out what it all means before jumping into requiring the suite of tests for hundreds of other chemicals.  And definitely don't even think about requiring Tier 2 tests before you know whether the Tier 1 tests provided any reliable information.

The Federal Register notice can be downloaded as a PDF here.

More information on EPA's Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program can be found on their web site.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

States Pick Up the Slack - Pass Chemical Laws While Federal TSCA Reform Goes Nowhere

According to an article in the online publication, Sustainable Business News, nine states "passed legislation to protect the public from toxic chemicals this year."  Overall, "18 states have passed over 80 chemical safety laws in the last nine years by an overwhelming margin with broad bipartisan support."  And this state-level dominance of chemical safety laws is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, primarily because the federal government has failed to take action to modernize the 35-year old Toxic Substances Control Act.

It's not from wont of trying.  Senator Lautenberg again introduced a version of his Safe Chemicals Act in 2011, and is holding a series of stakeholder meetings to try to fine-tune the proposal with stakeholder support from industry, NGOs, and academia.  This follows on several other attempts by Democrats in both the House and Senate to update TSCA, so far to no avail despite the public claims by industry to want modernization of the law.

The biggest reason why industry says they would like TSCA reformed is because they don't want to have to deal with the patchwork of state and local laws that are sometimes conflicting and always more susceptible to more local concerns.  But despite the attempts by legislators to address stakeholder input, industry has to date found the bills "unworkable" and "non-starters."  So while nothing happens at the federal level, the states jump in to protect their citizens.

According to the article:
On the state level, there's been bipartisan support for  protecting children's health and the environment from dangerous chemicals. 99% of Democrats and 86% of Republicans supported the policies listed below. 

Actions in various states have included banning BPA in thermal receipt paper, baby bottles, sippy cups, plastic storage and beverage containers, and other products, as well as restrictions and bans on heavy metals like cadmium in children's jewelry and brominated flame retardants in children's products.  Other states have initiated broader programs to identify "priority chemicals of high concern," reduce the use of toxic chemicals, or pass laws to ensure "Kids Safe Products."  A list of actions can be found in the Sustainable Business news article.

More information on state-level action to protect human health and the environment can be found here.

Whether all this state activity will stimulate federal action or not remains to be seen.  As Congress focuses on cutting programs, many of which are health and safety related actions such as those at EPA (which expects to get substantial funding cuts), the states are forced to spend even more money doing what many of them feel is a federal role.  On the other hand, as more and more states put pressures on industry, perhaps there will be more impetus for industry to recommend TSCA reform bills that they can support.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) Issues Final Alternatives Assessment Criteria

The USEPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics has released its final alternatives assessment criteria for evaluating human and environmental effects in accordance with its Design for the Environment (DfE) program.  DfE helps companies, states and other organizations to "identify safer alternatives to chemicals that may pose a concern to human health and the environment."  More information on the DfE program can be found on EPAs web site.

DfE Alternatives Assessments are "multi-stakeholder partnerships convened to evaluate priority chemicals and functional alternatives."  The goal is to "inform substitution to safer alternatives and reduce the likelihood of unintended consequences that might result if poorly understood alternatives are chosen."  In other words, they don't want to replace one bad chemical with another bad chemical just because they don't know enough about it.  According to DfE, its "expertise and focus is on chemical hazard," and encourages stakeholders to "assist with the selection of the scope of the alternatives assessment, help EPA consider economic realities, and identify likely functional alternatives for evaluation."

So whereas REACH in the EU specifies substances of very high concern and requires authorization for continued use (along with a substitution plan), the DfE program works directly with companies and other stakeholders to fix the problem together.

EPA is currently preparing DfE alternatives assessments for Bisphenol A (BPA), Decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), and Nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) surfactants.  The draft reports for public comment are expected to be released by EPA later this year.  In addition, EPA has underway an alternatives assessment for Hexabromocyclodecane (HBCD) in polystyrene insulating foam.  And EPA also plans to conduct an alternatives assessment for phthalates with a kickoff meeting scheduled for August 24, 2011.

Version 2.0 of the Alternatives Assessment Criteria document can be downloaded as a PDF here.

More information and links to the phthalates kickoff meeting signup materials can be found in the right sidebar of the DfE page.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation - New Report Suggests Women in Science Still Make Less Money than Men

A new report concludes that women in science still make less money than their male counterparts, though that "gender wage gap" was smaller than that gap "compared to others in non-STEM occupations."  The report, "Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation," examined women working in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) jobs.  It was released by the Department of Commerce and is based on an American Community Survey conducted in 2009 by the Census Bureau.

The report concludes that:
  • Women are underrepresented both in STEM jobs and STEM undergraduate degrees, and have been consistently over the last decade.
  • The relatively few women who receive STEM degrees are concentrated in physical and life sciences,
    in contrast to men, who are concentrated primarily in engineering.
  • Women who do receive STEM degrees are less likely to work in STEM jobs than their male counterparts, though they experience a smaller gender wage gap compared to others in non-STEM occupations.
The report suggests that the under-representation of women in the sciences may be a combination of a variety of factors. One factor is that these fields "may be less accommodating to people cycling in and out of the workforce to raise a family.  Other factors may be the lack of female role models, the different choices men and women typically make in response to incentives in STEM education and employment, and "perhaps
strong gender stereotypes discourage women from pursuing STEM education and STEM jobs."  The report cautions that it "does not - and cannot – explain why gender differences in STEM exist, it does aim to provide data and insight that will enable more informed policymaking."

The findings provide definitive evidence of a need to encourage and support women in STEM with a goal of gender parity. Given the high-quality, well-paying jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, there is great opportunity for growth in STEM in support of American competitiveness, innovation and jobs of the future.

The full report can be downloaded as a PDF and read here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

EPA Issues Draft Scientific Integrity Policy

The USEPA has issued a draft scientific integrity policy, following similar documents by NOAA and the Department of the Interior, and in response to President Obama's Executive Order calling for all agencies to develop such a policy.  The draft policy comes as no surprise, as EPA in June named long-time EPA staffer William Sanders as the "Scientific Integrity Officer."

The 12-page document, which can be downloaded as a PDF here, essentially formalizes integrity policies that have already been in force at EPA for years.  It covers all scientific staff and is designed to:
  • Ensure that their work is of the highest integrity, free from political influence.
  • Represent their own work fairly and accurately
  • Represent and acknowledge the intellectual contributions of others.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest and ensure impartiality.
  • Be cognizant of and understand the specific programmatic statutes that guide the employee’s work.
  • Welcome differing views and opinions on scientific and technical matters as a
    legitimate and necessary part of the scientific process.
  • Accept the affirmative responsibility to report any breach of this Scientific
    Integrity Policy.
The policy specifies four areas in which these goals are to be achieved, "a) the culture of scientific integrity at EPA, b) public communications, c) the use of Federal advisory committees and peer review, and d) professional development of government scientists and engineers."

The draft policy also "establishes a Scientific Integrity Committee," which is charged with implementing the policy across EPA.  The makeup of the committee is still under development, but will be responsible for "implementing, reviewing, and revising as needed" the policy.

The draft policy is open for public comment through September 6, 2011 and should be emailed to

More information, contact info, and links to the policy can be found in EPA's news release.