Doctor group wants revisions to US chemical safety regulations

25 April 2011 21:23  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A leading physicians group on Monday called for major reform of US chemical regulations, arguing that substance bans should be based on “reasonable levels of concern” rather than actual harm to human health and the environment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said that the principal US regulatory programme for the control of chemicals in commerce - the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) - should be substantially revised.

The physicians group said that TSCA needs a major overhaul because it “fails to protect children and pregnant women, who are most vulnerable to hazardous chemical exposures”.

In a major policy statement, AAP said that in a reformed TSCA, “any testing of chemicals should include the impact on women and children, including potential effects on reproduction and development”.

In addition, the statement said that beyond requiring health safety testing for existing chemical products and prequalification testing for new chemical substances entering the market, “there should be post-marketing surveillance of chemicals and the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] must have the authority to remove a chemical if needed”.

Most significantly, the group said that while regulation of chemicals in commerce should be based on evidence, “decisions to ban chemicals should be based on reasonable levels of concern rather than demonstrated harm”.

That approach puts the physicians group at odds with the US chemicals industry, which favours a risk-based approach to chemical controls and TSCA reform rather than the precautionary principle that underlies the EU’s programme for registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (Reach).

“We agree that the Toxic Substance Control Act needs to be modernised,” said Scott Jensen, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

But TSCA reform, he said, should further ensure both the safe use of chemicals and the innovation of new products.

“Protecting children’s health is a cornerstone of ACC’s 10 principles for modernising TSCA,” Jensen said, “which clearly state chemicals should be safe for their intended use, and potential risks faced by children should be an important factor in safe use determinations”.

The ACC has said that its principles for reforming TSCA, published in August 2009, are closely aligned with the EPA’s “core principles” for reform that were issued in October of that year.

But the ACC and other US chemical trade groups remain opposed to any Reach-like approach that would ban existing or new chemical products on grounds they might pose a risk to human health or the environment.

The AAP’s call for chemical bans based on “reasonable levels of concern” looks like a precautionary principle approach, Jensen said.

“It gets down to what sort of safety standard is applied,” he said, adding: “We believe it should bed risk-based rather than the precautionary principle.”

“ACC believes we must work together to shape a chemical safety framework that fosters innovation and economic growth, while continuing to assure protection of public health and the environment,” Jensen said.

The US Congress has begun consideration of newly introduced legislation to reform TSCA, but final action on a modernisation measure was not thought likely before the end of 2012 at the earliest.

By: Joe Kamalick
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