31 March 2008 00:00 [Source: ICB]
Joe Kamalick/Washington DC
US CHEMICAL industry officials are giving urgent support to a new, US chemical control program in an effort to beat back what they fear could be the global advance of the EU's Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (Reach).
High-level industry executives and officials from leading US chemical industry trade groups met recently to map strategy for accelerating implementation of the US-led tripartite agreement for a chemical assessment and management program (Champ).
Champ resulted from the agreement reached by the US, Canada and Mexico at the three-nation summit meeting in Montebello, Quebec, Canada, in August 2007.
Also known as the Montebello Agreement, Champ is a risk-based approach to health, safety and environmental management of chemicals. Under its terms, by 2012 the US is to complete risk characterizations on more than 9,000 chemicals produced in quantities of 25,000 lbs (11.3 tonnes) or more - so-called moderate volume chemicals.
Assessment of high production volume (HPV) chemicals is nearly complete under the nine-year-old US HPV program that has established toxicity profiles on some 2,800 compounds that are produced or imported in quantities of 100,000 lbs/year or more.
The Montebello Agreement is designed "to ensure that these chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize risks to health and the environment," says US regulator the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The agreement also provides that by 2020 the three countries will establish and maintain chemical inventories in each nation.
From the point of view of US industry, perhaps the most important feature of Champ is that it is not Reach.
The main difference between Reach and Champ is that the massive European plan is based on the precautionary principle, meaning that chemicals must be proven safe before they are allowed in commerce and consumer products.
Like much of the existing US regulatory program, Champ takes a risk-based approach that assigns testing and regulation on those substances that pose the greatest risk to consumers and the environment.
US chemical producers worry that Reach, with its broad prohibitive approach, will undermine US-EU trade, stifle innovation and perhaps even lead to the demise of Europe's chemical industry.
In addition, they are concerned that Reach will migrate to other countries, in time becoming the de facto global program.
Champ is meant to forestall that.
It also is meant to head off a possible US Reach effort, which is seen as more likely if a Democrat president is victorious in this year's US national elections and, as appears likely, Democrat majorities are increased in both the House and Senate.
While they still have the chance, chemical firms will soon ask Congress to quickly implement the three-nation Montebello deal, in the hope of heading off a Reach-like plan under a new US administration.
Bill Allmond, director of government relations at the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA), says his group has joined with other leading trade associations to get accelerated funding to implement Champ.
On one hand, Allmond says, US chemical manufacturers are concerned about having a new testing program initiated under Montebello before the EPA completes analysis of the HPV testing, which could influence how the Montebello agreement is put into play.
However, he said, there is also concern that a new president might scrap the Montebello plan in favor of enacting a program along the lines of Reach.
In the hope of establishing the Montebello Agreement's approach, Allmond says that "several trade associations are going to appeal to Congress to provide additional funding to EPA in 2009 to advance this Montebello initiative."
In addition to SOCMA, Allmond says the American Chemistry Council, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and the Soap and Detergent Association are among chemical trade groups that will press Congress to accelerate implementation of the Montebello Agreement. "But I am afraid we may be running out of time," he says.
The national elections are in November, and the work of Congress is already slowing as members focus increasingly on their reelection campaigns rather than legislation.
The EPA is fully behind Champ. EPA administrator Stephen Johnson told the annual GlobalChem conference on international chemical regulation: "We believe that Champ is a more focused, productive and workable solution than Reach."
Although Reach envisages comprehensive environmental and health profile testing of more than 30,000 chemicals and substances, Johnson said the more targeted Champ approach would, in the end, provide information on more chemicals, more promptly.
"Under this agreement, the US is to take action by 2012, well ahead of Reach," he said.
The Champ approach, he said, "will enable quicker, more efficient and more cost-effective testing of more chemicals than Reach."
Johnson indicated that the EPA under the administration of President George W. Bush will work to migrate the Champ approach to other nations in an apparent effort to head off what many in US industry fear will be the international spread of Reach.
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