Friday, March 25, 2011

Jim Willis - EPA Chemical Control Division Director - Leaving for UNEP

The director of the EPA's chemical control division, Jim Willis, has tendered his resignation from the EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT).  He will become the Executive Secretary of the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions under the United Nations Environment Program.  He will be based in Geneva, Switzerland.

I have discussed these international conventions in previous articles. The Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions deal with reduction or elimination of specific listed chemicals that are considered to be hazardous and persistent in the environment. The Basel Convention is designed to control hazardous waste disposal.  Since they primarily deal with PBT (persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic) chemicals, especially those that may be transported long distances, the role seems perfect for Willis and his experience at EPA.  Ironically, while the US signed the treaties Congress has never ratified them.  That means we can offer our views but must sit by without a vote.

According to the letter sent to EPA staff by Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, Director of OPPT"
"Jim will be responsible for managing the secretariats for the three treaties, which together encompass the global legal regime for the environmentally sound management of chemicals and wastes...Jim's accomplishments at EPA are many and he will be greatly missed."

Cleland-Hamnett also noted that Maria Doa will take over Willis' position as Director of the Chemical Control Division at EPA.  Tala Henry will be acting director of the National Program Chemicals Division (Doa's current job) and Brian Symmes will return to his position as the Deputy in that group.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

ECHA plans 6th Stakeholder Day in Helsinki to Update on REACH chemical progress

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will be holding their Sixth Stakeholders’ Day on May 18, 2011 in Helsinki.  As with the previous five stakeholder days, this one will provide updates on the progress of REACH, as well as share insights and expectations of future obligations.  There will also be various training sessions on REACH, CLP, and new for this day, the Chesar tool. 

The Chesar tool day of training will be held on May 17th and is critical for constructing and running exposure assessments.  Chesar is the Chemical Assessment and Reporting tool and is extremely useful for the safety assessment and chemical safety report, if one knows how to use it.  So the training day is a welcome addition.

Information on the Stakeholder's Day can be found on the ECHA website.

More information about the Chesar training can be found here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waiting for TSCA Chemical Reform? Keep Waiting

Readers of this site will know that I have talked a lot about the efforts to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Bills were introduced in 2010 by both the House and Senate, and many hearings and stakeholder meetings were held.  But what seemed to be a clear path to passing an update to the 35 year old law now seems to be a distant memory.  The likelihood of legislation being introduced, never mind passed, in the current Congress is pretty much zero.

This is the sense suggested by several recent events.  The industry still notes their general concurrence that a federal level program update is needed, the actual follow through seems unlikely any time soon.  One reason is because industry feels that the bills introduced by Democrats Lautenberg in the Senate and Waxman/Rush in the House were completely unworkable.  So much so that to try to modify them would be an impossible task.

While it would seem a good time to get more industry-friendly legislation enacted during the current Congress, there is a sense that the next Congress will be even more conducive to business interests.  This is largely based on the assumption that the Republican party will not only hold (and perhaps expand) the majority in the House, but that they will likely take the majority in the Senate as well.  Given the number of Democratic Senators up for reelection and/or retiring, that likelihood seems almost certain.  So with both houses controlled by the Republicans the feeling is that there would be no need to compromise as much with the Senate as would be needed now.

The ultimate goal of any TSCA modernization from industry's perspective is to enable continued innovation in the development of new chemicals, where the US had led Europe and other nations for many years.

So expect no serious effort to pass TSCA reform in 2011 or 2012, with the prospects for 2013 and 2014 depending largely on the results of the 2012 elections.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gains in Reducing Persistent Chemicals May be Lost to Climate Change

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (thankfully called simply POPs) has been working to reduce the emissions of these chemicals for many years.  But a new report suggests that some of the gains made may be reversed by the effects of climate change.  The report, "Climate Change and POPs: Predicting the Impacts" was issued by the United Nations Environment Program last month.

The report notes that:

Significant climate-induced changes are foreseen in relation to future releases of POPs into the environment, their long-range transport and environmental fate, and human and environmental exposure, subsequently leading to higher health risks for both human populations and the environment. The report also addresses the synergies between the climate change and POPs policy agendas and identifies areas of uncertainty and existing gaps in data, information and knowledge.

The report suggests that persistent chemicals, i.e., those that stay in the environment for a long time without breaking down into components of lesser concern, may mobilize from wherever they are and be available for long-range transport.  Warmer temperatures overall could increase emissions of POPs from soil, water, and ice, which could have significant ramifications.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Google.Org to Facilitate Scientists' Communication of Climate Change

The philanthropic arm of Google, aka Google.Org, has organized a team of 21 climate scientists to help communicate the realities of climate science.  The main goal is to counter the "climate change skeptics who have created a political megaphone in Washington" to "create noise" and disinform, rather than inform, the public and policy-makers.  The level of disinformation was evident in the recent Republican led denial of scientific knowledge.

The 21 scientists will serve for one year as Google Science Communication Fellows. According to, "these fellows were elected from a pool of applicants of early to mid-career Ph.D. scientists nominated by leaders in climate change research and science-based institutions across the U.S."  The focus of the fellows is on communicating the science, so "chose scientists who had the strongest potential to become excellent communicators."  The list of scientists can be found here.

Paul Higgins, who is one of the Google Fellows and an associate policy director at the American Meteorological Society, noted the disconnect between scientists and policy-makers:
"We are seeing very clearly with climate change that our policy choices are currently not grounded in knowledge and understanding...If we were well informed as a society — and if policymakers were well informed — then they would be taking the risk that climate change should be taken seriously."

According to Google, Kelly Levin, a senior research associate at the World Resources Institute, hoped that the program would "engage wider audiences in the scientific discussion."  Further, she noted:
"Given the pace and scale of human-induced climate change, it is of great importance that climate change science, and the urgency of addressing the climate change problem, is communicated effectively to the public and decision makers."
 More information about the program can be read here.