US chemical officials welcome EPA reform goals

30 September 2009 02:00  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US chemical industry officials on Tuesday welcomed steps being taken by federal environmental regulators to modernise the nation’s principal law governing control of chemicals in commerce.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said that general principles for reform of the 33-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “are closely aligned with principles that we have advanced”.

The EPA planned to publish those general principles on its website on Tuesday as the agency’s top administrator, Lisa Jackson, delivered a speech on the issue.

Council president Cal Dooley said that in a stakeholder briefing with Jackson earlier on Tuesday, he was pleased to learn “that the EPA principles for modernisation of TSCA are in most respects vey closely aligned with principles that we put forward in August”.

Based on what he was told by Jackson, he said: “I have great confidence that we will have the opportunity to bring industry together with environmental groups and consumers into an effective modernisation of TSCA, a reform that will give consumers confidence in the safety of chemicals in commerce but allow the US chemicals industry to continue the kind of innovation that has made it a leader.”

Among the principles that EPA wants to guide reform of TSCA, he said, is a major revision of the agency’s inventory of chemicals in commerce. That list now numbers some 80,000 substances, because chemicals added to the inventory over three decades remain on it even if they are no longer in use.

He indicated that the inventory might be reduced to about 7,000 chemicals in commerce.

Mike Walls, the council’s vice president for regulatory and technical affairs, said he understands that EPA wants to develop a system for prioritisation of chemicals based on their hazards, use and exposure information in order to focus on those substances that potentially pose the greatest risk to consumers or the environment.

That risk-based approach underlies the existing TSCA law and regulatory programme, and US chemical industry officials have been anxious to see that approach maintained. 

US industry officials oppose the precautionary principle approach that underlies the EU’s controversial system for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH).

Dooley indicated that a comprehensive modernisation of TSCA could forestall efforts by some in the Congress to enact a US version of REACH, plans long opposed by the industry.

He said there are some lessons to be learned, good and bad, from the EU experience with REACH as well as from the Canadian chemicals control programme and the long US experience with TSCA.

“Our objective is to build on all three of these experiences and ensure an effective modernisation of TSCA that will be the most effective and efficient programme to give consumers the greatest confidence,” he said.

“We think that in many ways EPA has recognised that REACH has some positive aspects but that that it also has some inefficiencies, and I would say we found very encouraging that EPA consistently stated today that they want a science-based approach,” he said.

Dooley also said he realised that it might not be realistic to expect Congress to pass a TSCA reform measure that would wholly pre-empt state regulation of chemicals. 

However, he added, “If we are effective in developing a gold standard for chemicals safety in TSCA reform, it will mitigate the necessity at state level to promulgate independent regulations, a functional pre-emption.”

Dooley said that in conversations with EPA officials on Tuesday and earlier, “we recognise that EPA will have to have additional resources” to implement a modernised TSCA. “As an industry, we are prepared to provide some level of support to fund those broader activities,” he said.

A council spokeswoman said there was as yet no legislation pending in the US Congress that would effect the kind of changes envisioned by EPA and the council but that Dooley was confident that the necessary legislation could be crafted relatively quickly.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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