US chemical leaders urge controls reform but not REACH

09 March 2010 21:39  [Source: ICIS news]

Chems urge caution on regsWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US chemical sector officials on Tuesday voiced support for modernisation of the nation’s 34-year-old chemicals control regulations but cautioned Congress that a major EU-like reform would undermine the industry.

In a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, industry officials and trade groups urged Congress to retain the US risk-based approach to controlling chemicals in commerce.

The subcommittee, part of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, was hearing testimony from various stakeholders on how to modernise the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which has remained substantially unchanged since enacted in 1976.

Some advocates of TSCA reform want Congress to enact US version of the EU’s programme for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH), which is widely opposed by US chemical manufacturers.

Charlie Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), said his group’s 450 member firms support modernisation of the US chemicals risk management system but “NPRA does not believe that a wholesale rewrite of the statute is warranted”.

Drevna and other industry officials told the panel that regulation must ensure public safety without smothering chemical-sector innovation and production.

“Effective chemical risk management strives for the balance between doing nothing, which is unacceptable, and zero-risk tolerance - which is not feasible, sustainable or desirable,” Drevna said.

Beth Bosley, managing director for Boron Specialties in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said that “Of course we need protective chemical regulation, but it must be well-informed regulation so that we maximise the improvement in our quality of life and minimise damage to US industry’s competitiveness”.

Speaking for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), Bosley noted that the US chemicals sector is a global leader in research and development (R&D) and innovation, accounting for nearly 60% of chemical-related patents filed worldwide in the last five years.

Abandoning the risk-based approach embodied in TSCA for the precautionary principle underlying REACH will discourage innovation and divert capital from R&D, she argued.

“REACH is fundamentally flawed in that there was no risk prioritisation prior to commencing the initiative,” Bosley said. She said that the REACH approach to evaluating chemicals in commerce based on volume means that low-risk compounds are screened at the same priority as higher risk substances.

Those arbitrary testing and evaluation requirements burden the EU chemicals sector with costs that will erode profit margins and reduce R&D spending, she said.

“This REACH expenditure must be made without any certainty that risks will be reduced,” Bosley argued. “Consequently, the manufacture and use of certain chemicals will move out of Europe, simply because the costs to stay in the European market are too high.”

Drevna challenged the assertion by REACH advocates that the EU approach will spur innovation in safer chemicals, saying that 10-year-old EU requirements for extensive toxicity and environmental fate testing for new chemicals - without regard for actual consumer exposure - has inhibited new product development in Europe.

He said that while the EU has seen the introduction of about 2,000 “new and usually safer chemicals” over the past decade, as many as 12,000 new chemistry products have been introduced in the US during the same period.

Testifying for Dow Chemical, company vice president Neil Hawkins also urged that TSCA reform focus on a risk-based and tiered regulatory approach that would rely on all available scientific evidence and provide incentives for innovation in sustainable chemistry.

Linda Fisher, the chief sustainability officer at DuPont, urged a robust but sensible reform of TSCA and one that will discourage multiple and conflicting approaches at state level.

“State-by-state bans, restrictions, phase-outs and substitutions create a fractured and unpredictable market that makes it increasingly difficult to operate in the US,” she said.

“It is not often that an industry asks to be regulated in a more comprehensive way, but that is precisely what we are asking for - regulations that provide greater public and market confidence in the safety of chemicals in commerce, greater predictability and greater transparency,” Fisher added.

Several industry witnesses also urged Congress to increase funding for TSCA regulatory operations, arguing that the existing statute can be modernised but that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs more staffing and resources to effectively implement it.

Bosley said that “The biggest shortcoming of the TSCA programme today is a lack of resources, not lack of authority”. 

She said that while industry should shoulder some of the increased costs needed for a more robust controls system, “the benefits of innovation are shared by the public” and producers should not bear the entire costs for a new chemicals programme.

After additional hearings by other committees, a draft TSCA reform bill is likely to be introduced later this year. Final action on an expanded and modernised chemicals control regulatory system is not expected until sometime next year.

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