INSIDE VIEW: Trade secrets, TSCA reform key issues for GlobalChem

06 March 2012 15:14  [Source: ICIS news]

SOCMA president and CEO Lawrence SloanEditor’s note: This article is an opinion piece and the views expressed are those of the author and do not represent those of ICIS.

By Lawrence D Sloan, President & CEO
Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates
6 March, 2012

As chemical industry professionals, scientific experts and government officials convene in Baltimore today for this year’s Global Chemical Regulations Conference (GlobalChem), SOCMA will once again reiterate to the EPA the importance of safeguarding company trade secrets while promoting public transparency.

Like many people at GlobalChem, I am highly concerned about the push by the EPA for greater public access to confidential business information. This is an ongoing issue with significant and potentially damaging implications for the entire supply chain of commerce from raw material supplier to consumer and should not be taken lightly.

Industrial espionage is a serious and omnipresent threat to American manufacturing. Disclosing chemical identity would only serve as an opportunity for competitors, many of which are overseas, to mine US intellectual property.  As widely reported by the press, the US government has accused China of playing a role in the theft of trade secrets from DuPont regarding its technology to manufacture titanium dioxide (TiO2). Such cases would be far more commonplace if our government facilitated it, as through the EPA’s proposed action.  

Given the narrow applications for which specialty chemicals are used and the niche markets they serve, disclosure of chemical identity may be all it takes to give away a competitive advantage and result in less innovation in the US. In many cases, the confidentiality of chemical identity is all a specialty chemical producer has to remain in business. Simply stated, the incentive to develop new chemicals, including “green” chemicals that the EPA publicly supports, largely disappears if prospective manufacturers know the risk is high of having their novel idea being revealed.

If we as a nation want to continue to move towards greener chemicals and products, there will need to be proper incentives in place. It is imperative that the EPA maintain a proper balance between public access to proprietary information and confidential business information (CBI) protection, and we are eager to hear from them on this front.

We’re also coming together at a time when the consensus is that Congress is unlikely to reform the nation’s chemical control law this session. Last year, SOCMA joined other major trade groups in a series of stakeholder meetings led by congressional staff to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  We welcomed this dialogue and appreciated the willingness of Senator Frank Lautenberg to listen to our views, something that was absent in past legislative reform attempts.

While we remain committed to working with our members, allied associations and friends within the EPA to modernize the statute through carefully tailored fixes, we recognize that our industry is often blamed for Congress’ inability to pass TSCA reform. However, the blame rests also with Congress. The fact is, Congress has been unable or unwilling to introduce legislation that improves outdated provisions of the statute while preserving what is best about it. Without this balance, we believe, those in Congress who wish to modernize TSCA will fail to achieve enough support among legislators to succeed. As a result, the chemical industry remains in limbo for yet another year. We are committed to seek pragmatic change in chemical risk legislation that preserves innovation (not to mention US jobs), while clouded by the possibility of drastic changes to TSCA that seeks to build a framework of fear around all chemicals.

Furthermore, we strongly believe that discussions about reforming TSCA need to be based on fact. Unfortunately, there are many myths that persistently find their way inside the public discourse about TSCA and about chemicals in the marketplace. For example, proponents of comprehensive TSCA reform often state that there are 80,000 chemicals in commerce today for which there is little to no health or safety data. However, far fewer are currently in commercial use, and many chemicals on record are no longer being made. Case in point -- over the past several years, Canada has “reset” their chemical inventory only to find that less than half of the original dossier was actively used in commerce.  Experts have indicated the same may be true for the US

To help address these misconceptions, SOCMA launched ChemicalsInCommerce.com  last year to dispel some of the common myths that have driven much of the TSCA reform discussions over the past several years. In order for TSCA modernization to productively take place, the facts need to be clearly understood.

Chemicals management in the US should not require sweeping changes in order to meet the new challenges being faced. The regulatory system could be made stronger and more effective by more fully utilizing the existing program and adopting appropriately tailored enhancements. This will help ensure America’s global competiveness, retain invaluable US jobs, while balancing the needs of the consumer to accessing health and safety data on chemicals used in consumer products by families every day.





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