Wednesday, November 13, 2013

House Hearing - The Chemical Safety Improvement Act - November 13, 2013

As noted previously, the House Environment and the Economy subcommittee is holding a hearing Wednesday, November 13, 2013 in Room 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing begins at 10:15 am and will be live-streamed for those who can't squeeze into the hearing room.

The hearing is focused on evaluation of the bipartisan TSCA reform bill introduced earlier this year in the Senate by the late Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and David Vitter (R-LA). Called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), the Senate bill is likely to be the basis for any House bill offered in this Congress.

Background documents are available on the House committee website. Currently scheduled witnesses include Senators Vitter (R-LA) and Udall (D-NM), who are working together to bring the Senate bill to fruition. Udall stepped in for original sponsor Frank Lautenberg upon his death and as surrogate for Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Also, in a change from past hearings, Assistant Administrator Jim Jones will present EPA's thoughts on the bill.

In a far-reaching effort to get different viewpoints, other witnesses include some from industry and from NGOs: Cal Dooley of the American Chemistry Council, Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund, Ernie Rosenberg of the American Cleaning Institute, and Andy Igrejas of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, as well as Wendy Wagner of the University of Texas School of Law and Richard Goss of the Information Technology Industry Council. Other witnesses may also be called. Most notably missing is Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group, which is one of the NGOs who are not quite as on board with the bill as ACC and EDF.

The fact that the House has moved from initial forays into how TSCA works in general to evaluation of a specific bill suggests that the House is willing to actually pass legislation at least close to what the bipartisan CSIA offers. That's likely a good thing as there really isn't any other opportunity for a TSCA reform bill other than the CSIA getting through Congress, and all parties agree that TSCA is severely outdated and must be reformed. That said, there are only a handful of legislative days left before Congress takes yet another break, so it's just unreasonable to think that a bill will be passed before next year.

Of course, next year is a mid-term election year, which creates a new dynamic. Whether that dynamic increases or decreases the likelihood of passage will be the topic of a future post.

For updates and more information on the hearing go to the hearing website.

Witnesses: 
Panel I:
The Honorable David Vitter
  • Member
  • United States Senate
The Honorable Tom Udall
  • Member
  • United States Senate
- See more at: http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearing/s-1009-chemical-safety-improvement-act#sthash.Y9dL1SLa.dpuf
Witnesses: 
Panel I:
The Honorable David Vitter
  • Member
  • United States Senate
The Honorable Tom Udall
  • Member
  • United States Senate
Panel II:

The Honorable Jim Jones
Panel III:

Calvin M. Dooley
Richard Denison, Ph.D.
Ernie Rosenberg
Andy Igrejas
Wendy Wagner
Richard E. Goss
  • Vice President, Environment and Sustainability
  • Information Technology Industry Council
  • Witness Testimony (Truth in Testimony and CV)
- See more at: http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearing/s-1009-chemical-safety-improvement-act#sthash.Y9dL1SLa.dpuf
Witnesses: 
Panel I:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

House to Consider Senate TSCA Reform Bill

The House Environment and the Economy subcommittee chaired by Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) is expected to begin specific evaluation of the bipartisan TSCA reform bill introduced earlier this year in the Senate by the late Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and David Vitter (R-LA). I'll link to the committee hearing page when it is listed, but right now it appears to be set for Wednesday, November 13, 2013.

The Senate bill, called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), was a surprise introduction, coming only a month after Senator Lautenberg had introduced the latest version of his own TSCA reform bill. Lautenberg had been a staunch advocate for chemical safety, working tirelessly since 2005 to reform the 37 year old law. He died shortly after the CSIA was introduced, leading some to suggest that his was pushed into agreeing to a bipartisan bill that is clearly much more industry friendly than his own bill.

At least two dozen Senators - split roughly equally between Democrats and Republicans - have signed on as co-sponsors to the CSIA. Several hearings in the Senate and House occurred earlier in the summer but no action has been taken recently given distractions such as summer holidays and the arbitrary government shutdown.

The fact that the House will take up review of the bill suggests that there has been behind-the-scenes effort to move the bill along. Industry loves the bill because it avoids any significant across-the-board data requirements (such as those required in Europe's REACH program). Environmental and health advocates are split on the bill for that same reason and others, but most acknowledge that this bill does make improvements over the Toxic Substances Control Act it is designed to replace.

As the process moves forward I'll have more on the bill, its pluses and minuses, and its likelihood of passage. Right now it's the only game in town. The question remains - is it the right game?

One news report on the upcoming hearing is at The Hill. The hearing will be announced on the committee website.

Monday, September 30, 2013

New IPCC Report Shows Certainty that Human Activity is Causing Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its long-awaited update on the state of the climate, and the certainty that human activity is causing it has grown. This is the first of a series of reports and documents the efforts over the last seven years of Working Group I (WGI). With 209 Lead Authors, 50 Review Editors, 600 Contributing Authors and hundreds more reviewers, this volume of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) "provides a comprehensive assessment of the physical science basis of climate change."

Among the key findings are that it is unequivocal, i.e., absolute certainty, that the the planet is warming. WGI also has increased the confidence that human activity is the major cause. In 2007 the IPCC conservatively stated that there was a greater than 90% certainty of human causes - that has now been raised to 95%-100% certainty. In other words, the planet is warming and we are the main reason why.

The IPCC also states with high confidence that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, that glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and that Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent.

There is also high confidence that sea level has been rising faster than anytime in the last two thousand years.

The IPCC AR5 report of the physical science basis can be downloaded in full at the IPCC website. A Summary for Policymakers is also available.

This is the first of four reports to be issued. The Working Group II report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability will be issued in March 2014. The Working Group III report on mitigation of climate change will be come out in April 2014. Finally, the Synthesis Report, which summarizes all three technical reports, will be issued in October 2014.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

House Holds TSCA Reform Hearing September 18, 2013

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing on TSCA Reform Wednesday, September 18, 2013. Starting at 2 pm EDT, the hearing will be held live in the 2123 Rayburn House Building hearing room. A live webcast can be viewed when the hearing begins.

The title of the hearing is: “Regulation of Existing Chemicals and the Role of Pre-Emption under Sections 6 and 18 of the Toxic Substances Control Act."

This continues a series of "fact-finding" hearings sponsored by the House. A TSCA reform bill called the Safe Chemicals Improvement Act will introduced by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg and Senator David Vitter. The bipartisan bill has substantial support on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, though EPW Chair Barbara Boxer is not one of them. One of the concerns raised by both parties are the preemption provisions. Boxer and the state of California (and other states) are concerned the current Senate bill's provisions will block any state action on toxic chemicals even if EPA does not take sufficient action to protect human health and the public. Hence the House focus on that issue in today's hearing.

The list of witnesses is below, along with links to their written testimony. The hearing is expected to be livecast on the committee's web page.

Panel One:
Mark A. Greenwood
Principal
Justin Johnson, Deputy Secretary
William K. Rawson
Jennifer Thomas
Lemuel M. Srolovic 
Linda Reinstein

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Senate Committee Hearing on TSCA Reform Wednesday July 31 2013


The Senate Environment and Public Work Committee, led by Senator Barbara Boxer, is holding a hearing on TSCA Reform Wednesday, July 31, 2013. Starting at 9:30 am EDT, the hearing will be held live in the 406 Dirksen Senate Building hearing room. A live webcast can be viewed when the hearing begins.

The purpose of the hearing: “Strengthening Public Health Protections by Addressing Toxic Chemical Threats.”

Mainly it is a mechanism for EPW Chair Boxer to address her concerns related to the bipartisan Safe Chemicals Improvement Act bill introduced by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg and Senator David Vitter. The bipartisan bill came as a surprise only a month after Lautenberg had reintroduced his Safe Chemicals Act bill. Boxer called the hearing in an effort to ensure that industry had not unduly influenced the ailing Lautenberg and gotten a death-bed commitment for an industry-friendly bill that is dramatically different than Lautenberg's own bill.

Other concerns to be addressed with be the preemption provisions, which the state of California (and other states) are concerned will block any state action on toxic chemicals even if EPA does not take sufficient action to protect human health and the public.

A long list of witnesses have been identified:

Panel 1



Mr. Michael A. Troncoso
Senior Counsel
Office of the Attorney General, California


Mr. H. Michael Dorsey
Chief, Homeland Security and Emergency Response
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection


Mr. Ken Zarker
Manager, Pollution Prevention & Regulatory Assistance Section
Washington State Department of Ecology

Panel 2


Mr. Daniel Rosenberg
Senior Attorney
Natural Resource Defense Council


Mr. Thomas McGarity
Professor of Law
University of Texas at Austin


Ms. Linda Fisher
Vice President of Safety, Health and Environment and Chief Sustainability Officer
DuPont


Mr. Stephen A. Owens
of Counsel,
Squire Sanders, LLP


Ms. Linda Reinstein
Executive Director and Cofounder
Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization


Ms. Robin Greenwald
of Counsel
Weitz & Luzxenberg


Mr. Mark N. Duvall
Principal
Beveridge & Diamond, PC


Mr. Ken Cook
President and Co-founder
Environmental Working Group

Panel 3


Ms. Nancy Buermeyer
Senior Policy Strategist
Breast Cancer Fund


Ms. Susan Vickers, RSM
Vice President of Community Health
Dignity Health


Ms. Mauren F. Gorsen, Esq.
Partner
Alston + Bird, LLP


Dr. Jonathan Borak, MD, DABT
Clinical Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health Clinical Professor of Medicine
Yale School of Medicine


Mr. Cecil Corbin-Mark
Deputy Director/Director of Policy Initiatives
We Act for Environmental Justice


Ms. Dorothy Felix
President
Mossville Environmental Action Now


Mr. Andrew R. Hackman
Vice President of Government Affairs
Toy Industry Association, Inc.


Ms. Ansje Miller
Eastern States Director
Center for Environmental Health

For more information and the link to the live feed, go to the EPW hearing page.
3

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

House Subcommittee Hearing on Toxic Substances Control Act

On June 13, 2013 the House Energy & Commerce Committee's Subscommittee on Environment and the Economy will hold a hearing titled "Title I of the Toxic Substances Control Act: Understanding its History and Reviewing its Impact." This hearing begins the process in the House as the Senate begins debate on the bipartisan Lautenberg-Vitter Safer Chemical Improvement Act bill introduced in the Senate.

Witnesses invited to speak are:

Kathleen M. Roberts
B&C Consortia Management LLC (a legal and consulting firm)

Charles M. Auer
Charles M. Auer & Associates LLC (consulting firm; former head of EPA's chemicals group)

Alfredo Gomez
Government Accountability Office (researches and produces analysis of government programs)

Beth Bosley
Boron Specialties LLC (industry)

Jeanne Rizzo
Breast Cancer Fund (health advocacy)

Daniel Rosenberg
Natural Resources Defense Council (environmental NGO)

The hearing will take place on June 13th at 10:15 am room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office Building. More details and the invitation-only witnesses will be posted on the Energy and Commerce subcommittee's webpage.

A background memo is available.


Monday, June 10, 2013

House Committee Will Hold Hearing on TSCA Reform

Following up on the surprise introduction of a bipartisan TSCA reform bill in the Senate, the House Energy & Commerce Committee's environment and economy subcommittee has scheduled a hearing to discuss "Title I of the Toxic Substances Control Act: Understanding its History and Reviewing its Impact." It's unclear how whether this hearing is a counter to the Lautenberg-Vitter Safer Chemical Improvement Act bill introduced in the Senate, or the beginning of support for the measure.

The Senate is controlled by Democrats, the House by Republicans. Given that the bill was developed by Senator Vitter and the chemical industry and includes significant compromise on the part of the Democrats and environmental groups as opposed to Lautenberg's previous Safe Chemical Act bills, it's likely the House action is to pave the way for some sort of TSCA reform bill to be put into law. The bill was introduced with a dozen bipartisan cosponsors as Senator Lautenberg was living what turned out to be his final days; he died on June 3rd less than two weeks after the bill was introduced.

The hearing will take place on June 13th at 10:15 am room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office Building. More details and the invitation-only witnesses will be posted on the subcommittee's web page.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Senator Frank Lautenberg has died

Long-time advocate of safer chemicals, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), has died at the age of 89.

Read more here.

And here.

Lautenberg has repeatedly pushed for modernization of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). He recently co-sponsored a bill with Senator David Vitter (R-LA) only weeks after reintroducing his own bill.

The cause of death was viral pneumonia. The Senator had been ill for the last few months. He survived a bout with cancer several years ago.

The surprise introduction of the Safer Chemicals Improvement Act (SCIA) was seen by some as a sign that Senator Lautenberg's health had deteriorated and that his colleagues wanted to honor him with a chemicals bill that could pass the Senate.

Republican Governor Chris Christie will appoint someone to fill Lautenberg's seat.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Senators Lautenberg and Vitter Announce Bipartisan Chemical Safety Improvement Act

In a surprise move, Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg (NJ), long a champion of safer chemicals, and Republican Senator David Vitter (LA) jointly announced introduction of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013. 

The bipartisan cosponsors include: co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Charles Schumer (D-NY), James Inhofe (R-OK), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and John Hoeven (R-ND).

 More details on Senator Lautenberg's website.

Reaction from the American Chemistry Council.

From the American Cleaning Institute.


From the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA). CSPA also provides a table comparing the new Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 with TSCA.

From Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (a coalition of health and environmental advocates).

According to the announcement, "the Lautenberg-Vitter “Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013” would:
  • Require Safety Evaluations for All Chemicals: All active chemicals in commerce must be evaluated for safety and labeled as either “high” or “low” priority chemical based on potential risk to human health and the environment.  For high priority chemicals, EPA must conduct further safety evaluations. 
  • Protect Public Health from Unsafe Chemicals: If a chemical is found to be unsafe, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the necessary authority to take action.  This can range from labeling requirements to the full phase-out or ban of a chemical.  
  •  Prioritize Chemicals for Review: The Environmental Protection Agency will have to transparently assess risk, determine safety, and apply any needed measures to manage risks.
  • Screen New Chemicals for Safety: New chemicals entering the market must be screened for safety and the EPA is given the authority to prohibit unsafe chemicals from entering the market. 
  • Secure Necessary Health and Safety Information: The legislation allows EPA to secure necessary health and safety information from chemical manufacturers, while directing EPA to rely first on existing information to avoid duplicative testing. 
  • Promote Innovation and Safer Chemistry: This legislation provides clear paths to getting new chemistry on the market and protects trade secrets and intellectual property from disclosure. 
  • Protect Children and Pregnant Women: The legislation requires EPA to evaluate the risks posed to particularly vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant women, when evaluating the safety of a chemical—a provision not included in existing law.
  • Give States and Municipalities a Say:  States and local governments will have the opportunity to provide input on prioritization, safety assessment and the safety determination processes, requiring timely response from EPA, and the bill establishes a waiver process to allow state regulations or laws to remain in effect when circumstances warrant it.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Senate Committee Approves Gina McCarthy Nomination for EPA Administrator

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved Gina McCarthy's nomination to be the next EPA Administrator. After Republicans boycotted an attempted committee vote last week, eight Republicans showed up today. All eight voted against McCarthy, while all 10 Democrats voted for her. Even Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg left his sick-bed to make the vote.

McCarthy's nomination now moves to the full Senate where she is expected to be confirmed despite Republican gamesmanship. Republican Senator David Vitter has indicated he will vote for her confirmation. The one remaining political game-playing is by Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri who says he will maintain a hold on her nomination until EPA sets a schedule for release of an environmental impact statement for a site in Missouri. Of course, EPA can't release the EIS until they have an Administrator to sign it. The Administrator-nominee that Blunt is holding up.

McCarthy is the current EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation. Under her watch the EPA has issued significant air pollution regulations, which is the main reason why Republicans are holding up her nomination.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

GAO Issues Report on EPA's Effort to Enhance TSCA Chemical Regulation

At the request of some members of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has conducted another study on how EPA "has increased efforts to assess and control chemicals." GAO concludes that progress has been made but EPA could "strengthen its approach."

From the highlights:

GAO was asked to evaluate EPA’s efforts to strengthen its management of chemicals. This report determines the extent to which (1) EPA has made progress implementing its new approach and (2) EPA’s new approach positions it to achieve its goal of ensuring the safety of chemicals. GAO examined agency documents and TSCA rulemaking and interviewed agency officials and stakeholders from industry and environmental organizations.

The starting point was the 2009 announcement by EPA of TSCA reform principles. Because TSCA reform bills, most notably those introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg, have not resulted in any update to the 1976 law, EPA has been working hard to maximize its current authority under TSCA. The GAO assessed its progress. The results are mixed, at best.

The results of EPA’s data collection activities, in most cases, have yet to be realized, and it may take several years before EPA obtains much of the data it is seeking.

In fact, the GAO summarizes:

Of the 83 chemicals EPA has prioritized for risk assessment, it initiated 7 assessments in 2012 and plans to start 18 additional assessments in 2013 and 2014. However, it may take several years to complete these initial risk assessments and, at the agency’s current pace, over a decade to complete all 83, especially as EPA does not have the toxicity and exposure data needed for 58 of the 83 chemicals prioritized for risk assessment.

While GAO recommends that EPA "develop strategies that address challenges impeding its ability to ensure chemical safety," the impeding challenges are well known - Congress simply won't take the steps necessary to modernize the nearly four-decade-old chemical law.

In a letter responding to the draft GAO report, Acting Assistant Administrator James Jones noted that GAO has several times before called for Congress to update the antiquated TSCA law:

It is EPA's position that, absent such statutory changes, the Agency will not be able to successfully meet the goal of ensuring chemical safety now and into the future.


With no realistic update to the law in sight, and constant attacks on EPA's budget, any blame for lack of chemical safety should be placed where it belongs - on Congress.

The full GAO report can be downloaded here.



Monday, April 15, 2013

Will current efforts to reform the TSCA chemical control law actually roll back progress?

Just last week Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) reintroduced his Safe Chemicals Act and there was hope for some sort of TSCA reform. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is expected to introduce an alternative, chemical-industry-backed, counter-bill in the next few weeks. But Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), believes that Senator Vitter's bill will actually roll back even the current limited authority of EPA to regulate chemicals under TSCA.

While some of this is speculation since very few people have seen Vitter's bill - he seems to have consulted primarily with only the one major chemical trade association and cut out other chemical groups, health advocates, environmentalists, and the public - Denison gleans from public statements several areas that could result in dramatic weakening of the current TSCA.

For example, rather than making it easier for EPA to request testing on chemicals with little data but apparent concern, Vitter's bill may actually make it harder for EPA to do so. According to Denison, the bill could also restrict the abilities of states to step in when the federal authorities fail, or are incapable, of taking action. There has also been widespread questioning of the risk standard proposed in the Lautenberg bill, a standard that Denison points out has been endorsed by major medical groups as necessary to protect vulnerable subpopulations, including developing fetuses and infants. The Vitter bill would also apparently make no changes to the current PMN process for new chemicals, a process that requires virtually no health and safety data be submitted in most cases.

So despite some movement on TSCA reform - the introduction of one and probably two new bills - it seems we're headed for another stalemate in which the goal is to stop TSCA reform. Again.

Denison's blog article can be found on the EDF website.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lautenberg to push TSCA reform bill

The Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that Senator Frank Lautenberg will try once again try to reform the nearly four decade old Toxic Substances Control Act. According to an article by Sandy Bauers published online, Lautenberg plans to introduce his newest version of the Safe Chemicals Act on Wednesday.

The Democratic Senator from New Jersey has been trying since 2005 to get passage of a TSCA reform bill. The most recent attempt in 2012 made it out of Committee on a partisan vote, only to die from lack of interest in the full Senate. Recently Republican Senator David Vitter has indicated that he was working on an alternative, chemical industry-backed, bill.

The Bauers article can be read here.

The announcement is now on Senator Lautenberg's site.

Full text of the 2013 bill is here.

A summary is here.

Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, an NGO, says the bill "much-needed legislation would protect Americans from unsafe chemicals."

Another NGO, the Environmental Working Group, also favors the Lautenberg bill.

A trade association, the American Chemistry Council, thanked Senator Lautenberg for his commitment, but indicated it was encouraged by "efforts in the Senate led by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) to develop a new proposal." Senator Vitter is expected by some to introduce a competing "industry" bill later in the month.

Another trade association, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) issued a press release today that did not mention Lautenberg's bill specifically, but called for a more piecemeal approach through "bipartisan cooperation."

According to the summary from Senator Lautenberg's office, the bill is identical to the one passed out of Committee last summer. That bill was never taken up for debate during the limited remaining legislative calendar during the election period. By reintroducing the bill Senator Lautenberg hopes to rejuvenate the discussion of much needed TSCA reform. Given the current political climate it is likely that no action will be taken until Senator Vitter's competing bill is offered.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Senator Lautenberg will not seek reelection

As I've previously indicated would be likely, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey has decided not to seek reelection in 2014. Lautenberg, who will be 90 years old during the campaign, will let younger candidates run for his seat.

Corey Booker, the popular Mayor of Newark, NJ, has already announced that he would run for Lautenberg's seat. Representative Frank Pallone had also privately indicated that he would likely run if Lautenberg chose to step down, though he has not yet made it official.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lautenberg Steps Down as Chair of Toxic Chemicals Subcommittee

Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, long a champion of efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), will no longer chair the Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Lautenberg, of course, has introduced several versions of a Safe Chemicals Act over previous Congresses.

Replacing Lautenberg as chair will be Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico. Barbara Boxer of California chairs the full EPW Committee. David Vitter of Louisiana had already replaced Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma as ranking minority member of the committee. The main reason given for the change to Udall on the toxics subcommittee is that Lautenberg has taken up the chair for the Financial Services subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee and simply will not have time. Lautenberg is up for reelection in 2014, though at 90 years old it seems unlikely he will run.

Meanwhile, Lautenberg expects to continue his push for TSCA reform during the current Congress, and with Vitter apparently working with industry to craft a counter-bill, it is possible that we'll see some sort of TSCA reform bill at least reach debate.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

EU Commission Publishes REACH Review

The EU Commission has fulfilled its obligation to review the REACH program. It published its REACH review on February 5, 2013. The 15-page document concluded:

"that REACH functions well and delivers on all objectives that at present can be assessed. Some needs for adjustments have been identified, but balanced against the interest of ensuring legislative stability and predictability, the Commission will not propose any changes to the enacting terms of REACH."

They did, however, determine that there is a need to reassess the impact of REACH on small and medium sized entities (SMEs), which because of their relative low benefit compared to the high costs of compliance the Commission felt have still been unduly impacted despite reduced fees and testing obligations.

A summary of the report can be read here.

The prepublication version of the report can be downloaded here as a PDF.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

26 States to Consider Toxic Chemicals Legislation in 2013

As TSCA reform enters another year without any resolution, at least 26 states are considering action to enhance protection of public health and the environment from exposure to chemicals. According to the advocacy coalition, Safer States:

In 2013, we expect at least 26 states to consider legislation and policy changes that will:
  • Restrict or label the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in receipts, children's products and food packaging.
  • Require removal of certain toxic flame retardants from children's products, home furniture or building materials.
  • Change disclosure rules so that concerned consumers will have a way to identify toxic chemicals in products.
  • Encourage manufacturers to remove identified toxic chemicals in favor of safer alternatives.
  • Ban cadmium, a dangerous, persistent metal that is often found in inexpensive children's jewelry.
  • Ban formaldehyde from cosmetics and children's products.
  • Promote green cleaning products in schools.
Safer States states that "We believe families, communities, and the environment should be protected from the devastating impacts of our society’s heavy use of chemicals. We believe that new state and national chemical policies will contribute to the formation of a cleaner, greener economy." They have also been highly critical of industry, reporting on what it sees as misplaced priorities "inside the toxic chemical industry."

So state efforts continue. At the federal level, Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg has indicated that he will reintroduce his Safer Chemicals Act. The SCA was passed out of committee last year but never came to the Senate floor for debate or vote. The committee-passed version includes substantial changes from the original bill, including many adjustments to take into consideration concerns expressed by industry. Still, industry widely denounced the bill as unworkable, a position that Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund and Andy Igrejas of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families have asserted is disingenuous at best. Industry is, however, reportedly working with Republican Senator David Vitter on what is effectively an industry-sponsored bill. It is unclear when or if Vitter's bill will be introduced, but any such bill would at least provide a counter-position to that of Lautenberg and offer opportunity for substantive debate.

Friday, January 4, 2013

EPA Releases Draft Risk Assessments Under Existing Chemicals Work Plan

From the USEPA Press Release:


"EPA today released for public comment draft risk assessments, for particular uses, on five chemicals found in common household products. The draft risk assessments were developed as part of the agency’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Work Plan, which identified common chemicals for review over the coming years to assess any impacts on people’s health and the environment. Following public comment, the agency will seek an independent, scientific peer review of the assessments before beginning to finalize them in the fall of 2013." 

The chemicals and specific use for which risk assessments were released are:

  • methylene chloride or dichloromethane (DCM) and n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in paint stripper products; 
  • trichloroethylene (TCE) as a degreaser and a spray-on protective coating; 
  • antimony trioxide (ATO) as a synergist in halogenated flame retardants; and 
  • 1,3,4,6,7,8-Hexahydro-4,6,6,7,8,8,-hexamethylcyclopenta-[γ]-2-benzopyran (HHCB) as a fragrance ingredient in commercial and consumer products.

A brief summary of the risk assessments can be downloaded in PDF format.

More information can be read on the EPA website.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

EDF Questions Independence of TERA Kids Chemical Safety Site

Recently, the Toxicology Excellence in Risk Assessment (TERA) non-profit group teamed up with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and others to initiate a website called Kids + Chemical Safety. The site purports to provide "up-to-date health information on chemical hazards and chemical safe use in children." Its tagline is "+ Balanced, scientifically accurate chemical health information." Scientist Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), however, questions TERA's independence.

After pointing out that being a non-profit "does not conflate to, or somehow confer the right to claim, objectivity or independence" (noting that the NRA and EDF itself are non-profits but have a clear perspective on the issues they address), Denison goes on to suggest that the site is not what it seems.

Denison categorizes the topics of the website into two groups: 1) those that are "largely outside of the vested interests of the site's most prominent sponsor" (i.e., ACC), and 2) those that "fall squarely within those vested interests." Denison argues that those two categories "are treated very differently on the website." I'll leave it to you to read his arguments and determine whether his case is valid.

The issue that the website and Denison's counterpoint raises is really about how the public gets its information on the health and safety of products on the market. Ideally all products would have been proven safe to the extent such a proof is possible, with the information from the multiple studies involved synthesized and presented in language both trustworthy and easy to understand by the general public. But this is rarely the case.

Part of this is because science is messy. It doesn't always give us an easy and definitive answer. More comprehensive pre-market testing would help, but in many cases there is no way to prove a negative, i.e., that actual use might result in some unforeseen hazard. We're probably stuck with that uncertainty, though we clearly can do more to reduce it. 

But part of the communication problem is also because the public has learned to distrust the information that is being presented to it. Independent sites could be a good way to build trust, as scientifically accurate information is distilled into something we can all understand. That requires true independence. Unfortunately, too many "grassroots" public information campaigns have turned out to be "astroturf," i.e., they may look real from a distance but are revealed to be fake upon closer inspection. It is small wonder that the public has developed a cynical attitude toward the information it receives.

Clearly Richard Denison feels the new TERA site, in part supported by the chemical industry, does not adequately achieve the independence needed to inspire the public's confidence.

Again, please read Denison's argument before deciding if he makes his case. But also think about how data can be presented in a way that can be both trustworthy and useful. After all, the goal is to inform the public - first, to ensure reasonable protection of their health and safety, and second, to avoid the irrational fear of the unknown caused by lack of reliable and dependable information.