US chemicals back reform but warn against REACH

26 February 2009 21:36  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Chemical industry officials on Thursday voiced support for revisions to the principal US chemicals control law but cautioned Congress against adopting European-style reforms.

“There have been calls from some groups to completely overhaul domestic chemicals policy and follow the European approach to chemicals management,” said Charlie Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), in testimony before a panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

He was referring to the EU’s programme for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH), which went into force last year.

Drevna warned that redrafting US chemicals control law - the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 - in the style of REACH could impede US environmental and health advances and retard chemical innovation.

“REACH is a regulatory concept that has never been attempted anywhere in the world, at any time,” Drevna said. “It is entirely premature to draw any conclusions about REACH and it is equally untimely to attempt any comparison between REACH and regulatory programmes that have been in effect for decades.”

However, Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), urged a major overhaul of TSCA, arguing that the 33-year-old statute does not give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adequate authority to force comprehensive testing of chemicals already in commerce or new substances.

TSCA, said Denison, “imposes an essentially un-meetable burden on EPA to prove actual harm in order to control or replace a dangerous chemical and thereby perpetuates the chemicals industry’s failure to innovate toward inherently safer chemical and product design”.

He called on Congress to adopt principles of the EU’s REACH plan to identify and control all chemicals of concern and to “shift the burden of proof from government to show harm, to industry to demonstrate safety”.

Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), agreed with Drevna that many of the shortcomings of TSCA are due not to the nature of the law but to inadequate funding and staffing at EPA.

Dooley said TSCA should be modernised because “the public’s confidence in the federal chemical management system has been challenged".

He said that TSCA and EPA “should have the authority to determine the safety of priority chemicals for their intended uses by using hazard, use and exposure information to assure an understanding of the risk being considered”.

“Chemical safety assessments and decisions that are based only on hazard characteristics overlook important information and are bad public policy,” Dooley said.

“Appropriate enhancements to the US federal chemical management system should be cost and resource efficient and should promote innovation,” Dooley said, adding: “To be clear, ACC is not advocating the adoption of the EU’s REACH system.”

Jim DeLisi, president of Fanwood Chemical and speaking for the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA), said that his organisation “agrees with many that TSCA needs to be revisited and that certain aspects of EPA’s TSCA programme could be improved”.

“But a sweeping overhaul like implementing Europe’s REACH is unnecessary and would be unwise,” DeLisi said.

Adopting the precautionary principles of REACH, he said, “would not produce major changes in our ability to protect human health and the environment, but it probably would result in many unintended consequences, such as delaying the development of new products and hastening the move to offshore manufacturing”.

Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steel Workers (USW), which represents most US chemical plant workers, urged the committee to adopt a REACH-like approach.

“Unless the US follows suit, consumers will ultimately come to trust European products more than they trust American products” Wright said. Citing a consumer advocate, Wright said that the label “Made in USA” should be “a guarantee, not a warning”.

NPRA’s Drevna warned that a REACH-style approach to chemicals control would impede technical and product innovation.

“Little more than a decade ago, the EU decided to require companies to conduct toxicity and environmental fate testing before a chemical could enter the marketplace,” Drevna said, saying the requirement “has inhibited the development of products in Europe that could enhance health and the environment”.

He cited the number of new chemical patents issued in Europe over the last decade, some 2,000, compared with approximately 13,500 chemical patents issued in the US over the same period.

“Pursuit of a programme like REACH, taken on with the best of intentions for human health and safety, could very well impair health and safety by denying critical products entry into the marketplace,” Drevna said.

Representative Bobby Rush (Democrat-Illinois), chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, said that “there is broad consensus among a diversity of stakeholders that TSCA needs to be re-examined” because the 33-year-old statute has failed to provide EPA with adequate enforcement tools and failed to provide the public with sufficient information about chemicals in commerce.

He noted that Thursday’s hearing was only the first in what is expected to be a series of information-gathering sessions before his panel and other congressional committees.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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