Chem groups press US Congress on reform of toxic substance act

17 November 2009 20:09  [Source: ICIS news]

Chem groups press Congress on TSCAWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Chemical industry officials on Tuesday urged Congress to focus on priority substances and a risk-based scientific approach when modernising the principal US law for the control of chemicals in commerce.

But in a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, environmentalists said that legislators should authorise prompt phase-out of non-essential uses for high priority chemicals. Moreover, manufacturers should bear the burden of proof for demonstrating the safety of their chemical products.

The subcommittee was hearing testimony from stakeholders on renewal and modernisation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the main US statute and regulatory authority for control of chemicals. The 33-year-old law has never had a substantive revision.

In testimony on behalf of industry, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) said that the existing risk-based framework underlying TSCA is “a strong foundation for protecting the health of consumers and the environment while simultaneously allowing for the development of products that enhance our standard of living and safeguard all aspects of health, safety and the environment”.

NPRA said a re-write of TSCA should allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to focus on prompt reviews of high-priority chemicals - those that represent both the highest potential for hazard and the greatest potential for human exposure - while the agency continues work on determining prioritisation of other, lower priority substances.

The prioritisation process should be transparent and allow for public review and comment at key points in the process, the association added, and “EPA actions throughout the evaluation process should be subject to appropriate deadlines”.

NPRA also argued that the evaluation of chemicals in commerce should distinguish between natural and manmade sources of exposure and between industrial- and consumer-exposure scenarios.

The association cautioned against exclusive reliance on biomonitoring in determining risk and exposure.  “Due to the limitations of its data in determining sources of exposure, biomonitoring should not be considered indicative of, or the primary determinant of, a substance’s potential to cause harm,” NPRA said.

The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) similarly urged lawmakers to modernise TSCA “in a way that doesn’t devastate a strategic American industry that is already fighting recession and foreign competition”.

Beth Bosley, speaking for SOCMA, warned the panel against reforming TSCA along the lines of the EU’s system for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH).

“Applying an approach like REACH in the US could devastate small- and medium-sized companies, including SOCMA members,” she said.

Bosley also recommended that Congress provide adequate funding for EPA to enforce a revised TSCA.  “The biggest shortcoming of the TSCA programme today is lack of resources, not lack of authority,” she said.

Daryl Ditz, speaking for the Centre for International Environmental Law, said that a revised TSCA should focus on those chemicals in commerce that combine persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity (PBT) and that EPA be authorised to order phase-out of PBTs, subject to narrow exemptions for critical uses.

“Congress should provide EPA a stronger footing by granting it clear authority to reduce use of and exposure to these and other high-priority chemicals and to promote their replacement with safer alternatives,” Ditz said.

In addition, he said, “Chemical manufacturers should shoulder the burden of proof for demonstrating the safety of their products”.

“These companies have the resources and technical expertise to undertake this analysis and a commercial incentive to win approval,” Ditz added.

“There is a corresponding responsibility for EPA to determine whether manufacturers have met this burden,” he said.  “In short, chemical producers should make the case, but EPA should make the call.”

The subcommittee hearings on Tuesday were the first of many similar sessions that are to be held by multiple congressional panels in both the House and Senate that have jurisdiction over TSCA. Final legislation to modernise TSCA is not expected before 2011.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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