Major reform of US chemical law needed to restore confidence

22 March 2011 16:13  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--Major reform of US chemical regulations is needed to restore public confidence in the safety of chemicals, and the existing 35-year-old programme is an inadequate tool, a top federal environmental official said on Tuesday.

Robert Sussman, senior policy attorney at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), warned that “there are compelling environmental and health problems that demand our attention” and that the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) lacks the authority to address those issues.

Sussman, a top advisor to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, told some 400 chemical sector executives at the GlobalChem conference that “TSCA is the only environmental law that has never been revised in 35 years, and it is now an inadequate tool”.

He said that the existing statute puts too many restraints on the EPA, noting that only some 200 chemicals of 84,000 substances in the EPA inventory have been vetted and only six chemicals have been banned in the history of TSCA.

“Advances in science have revealed new exposure pathways, new information about the subtle but troubling effects that chemicals can have on human development and the environment,” he said.

“As more chemicals are found in our bodies and in the environment, people are becoming more concerned and are asking more questions,” he said, adding: “TSCA is falling short of the public’s expectations.”

Congress was expected to again take up debate this year about reforming TSCA, after the prior 111th Congress failed to make any significant progress on the complex issue in 2009-2010.

The US chemicals sector and environmental groups, along with federal and state-level policymakers agree that TSCA should be reformed as quickly as possible. But there are vast differences among stakeholders on how to reshape the complicated regulatory programme.

“TSCA reform must ensure chemical safety and restore confidence that the public and the environment are protected,” Sussman said.

He said that the EPA was seeking two fundamental principles in TSCA reform, with the first being regulatory review of existing chemicals on the basis of science and risk of exposure.

For the second fundamental reform criteria, he said, “Manufacturers should provide information on new chemicals that demonstrate they are safe and do not harm the environment”.

As part of those goals, he said, the agency also wants TSCA reform to greatly increase public access to chemical information and to significantly reduce the amount of data that chemical manufacturers can withhold from disclosure as critical business information (CBI).

Although there is broad industry and environmental support for fast action by Congress on TSCA reform, a top industry official at GlobalChem predicted that final reform of the statute was not likely before 2013.

GlobalChem is cosponsored by the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The conference runs through Wednesday.

Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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