Soap and Detergent Association pursues science-based agenda

A smoother exchange

20 January 2010 16:04  [Source: ICB]

Members of the Soap and Detergent Association meet this week to do business and set the agenda for the year ahead

The US-based Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) may be best known for the annual convention held at the posh Boca Raton Resort in Florida for the past 37 years. Hear the acronym SDA and your first thought might be sun-drenched beaches and ocean breezes, elegant accommodations and fine food, and many, many business meetings.

For 2010, however, you can forget crashing waves and seagulls. In a sign of the times, the SDA Convention will be meeting this week at Marriott's Grande Lakes complex in Orlando, Florida - no mean venue, but a gesture, at least, toward the changed economic environment. The focus of the convention remains the same, though, says SDA president Ernie Rosenberg.

"The biggest purpose of the convention is business meetings," he points out. "It really is a global meeting of very senior people doing everything from purchasing to targeting R&D [research and development] and product development. The key is how senior it is - these are people who can make the deal."

The SDA has made changes to improve the event, he adds.

"We've largely restructured the convention to provide more content for the members," Rosenberg says. "We have more outside speakers, we've provided a more concentrated opportunity for our issues briefings, and we've structured the meeting to provide more opportunities for business-to-business meetings."

The organization will also be rolling out its new strategic plan, which will include a greater emphasis on sustainability, chemical management and outreach.

SCIENCE COMES FIRST
The annual convention may be the group's most high-profile activity, but the SDA also engages in considerable lobbying and advocacy - not unlike the many other trade groups based in Washington, D.C. The SDA, however, is fundamentally different from most of its peers, says Rosenberg.

"Our value proposition as an association is largely driven by the fact that we're a science organization," he says. "We not only use the science for product stewardship and advocacy, but it is the basis for our robust consumer education program."

The SDA's scientific work includes reports developing or analyzing environmental and safety data on surfactants and other ingredients, peer-reviewed articles on approaches to risk assessment and risk management, and assessment of the benefits of cleaning.

As examples, SDA published a manual on safe enzyme handling practices in the workplace and a guidance on screening level exposure assessments of consumer products. The SDA also does its own research - for example, performing environmental risk assessments on ingredients, and studies on septic systems, surfactants sorbed to sediments, water reuse and anaerobic biodegradability.

"SDA science on the ingredients of cleaning products and their impact on the environment is used by associations all over the world," Rosenberg notes.

SDA's role as a producer of and conduit for scientific information includes sponsoring eight consortia tasked with satisfying the data requirements of the US Environmental Protection Agency's voluntary High-Production Volume Challenge. These data are also submitted for review by the existing chemical program of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, the international group that helps governments deal with global economic issues.

Rosenberg says the SDA welcomes the opportunities that programs such as these provide to put safety and environmental data into the public domain. That the data might otherwise remain sequestered in the vaults of producer companies is primarily a consequence of two factors, he says.

First of all, it is difficult to get negative data published in toxicology journals, he explains. While it may be the case that an ingredient is toxic at a particularly high level of exposure, businesses with a product stewardship objective are interested in exposure levels relevant to actual use. If the levels necessary for an adverse effect are irrelevant to the safety of their product, testing for them would be an unjustifiable expense.

"You've got the information you need to know your product is safe," he continues. "Why would you spend more money and use more animals than you need to in order to be sure your customers and the environment are protected?"

The second hurdle is the actual expense of conducting tests.

"Companies spend millions to generate these data, so it's not surprising that they're not anxious to just give it away," he notes.

DATA DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
Current efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) present an opportunity to address these costs by establishing a system for distributing them among companies relying on the data.

"We haven't had a data compensation system unless we've done the testing ourselves, which has happened in a few cases where there were data gaps," says Rosenberg. "Then the companies contributed to those costs according to a formula that they agreed to ahead of time." TSCA reform has been a key issue for the SDA. "We're very concerned that whatever they do does not impede innovation," says Rosenberg.

For example, companies should be able to protect proprietary information, and the commercialization of new products should not be slowed unnecessarily.

Rosenberg is also eager that TSCA reform does not provoke an unproductive conflict between chemical suppliers and product makers, a goal facilitated by the fact that the SDA's membership is about equally divided between the two sectors.

"In Europe, there was a knock-down, drag-out fight between the chemical industry and the downstream users," he points out, "and both suffered as a result.

"SDA has made it its mission to make sure that doesn't happen in the US, and we cooperate very closely with the American Chemistry Council and SOCMA [the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates]. We do a lot of outreach with sister organizations."

Rosenberg is not too keen on Europe's Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (Reach) initiative.

The Substance Information Exchange Forums (SIEFs), which are Reach's answer to data compensation, are not working smoothly, he notes, and downstream users have little say in the process.

"It's clearly administratively excessive and will probably require way more animals to be tested than is really called for."

California's Green Chemistry Initiative is also worrisome.

"We want to make sure they take into account exposure, not just hazard," he says. Much more dialogue needs to take place in California in the coming year, Rosenberg notes. He is more optimistic about the TSCA. "We've been in a leadership role in the development of proposals for the reform of TSCA," he says. The SDA has been at the table meeting congressional leaders and NGOs, showcasing its science-based expertise and advocacy as the complex discussions move forward in Congress, he notes.

The SDA has been leading in other regards, as well, working to get ahead of potential labeling regulation through its voluntary ingredient disclosure communication program, which started on January 1.

"All intentionally added ingredients will be disclosed by [participating] companies, in most cases on websites, but they can also use an 800 number or do labeling - although labeling is not always as useful."

In some cases, ingredients will be identified by chemical class to protect proprietary information. "Our program's pretty comprehensive," he says. "It should satisfy people's concerns about what's in our products." Similar ingredient communication programs are underway in Canada and Australia.

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By: Clay Boswell
+1 713 525 2653



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