US environmental official urges industry pressure for major reform

06 March 2012 17:27  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--A top US environmental regulator on Tuesday urged chemical industry executives to press for quick reform of the nation’s substances control statute, saying that they would be rewarded with regulatory certainty.

Jim Jones, acting head of chemical safety and pollution prevention (OCSPP) at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told the annual GlobalChem regulatory conference that it is in industry’s interest to see prompt reform and modernisation of the 36-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

TSCA, the principal US law governing chemicals in commerce, has not been substantially modified since it was enacted in 1976, and there is broad agreement among industry, environmental groups and many in Congress that the statute is badly in need of an update.

Jones, whose office is responsible for enforcing TSCA, said that the legislative task in its modernisation is difficult because it is a complex statute, but added that the path to reforming the law is in finding common ground.

“It’s easy for me to find common ground in this, it is safer chemicals,” he said.  “It is what we all aspire to, and it’s rather simple. But then, how to get there, how to occupy that common ground, that is tricky."

Legislation to modernise TSCA was introduced in the US House and Senate last year, but the bills were considered too radical by US chemical industry officials who saw in them an attempt by environmentalists to impose a European-style REACH (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances) programme in the US

US chemicals sector officials also worry that environmental rules reform will jeopardise critical business information (CBI).

Jones said that in the absence of a prompt and thorough reform of TSCA, US chemicals manufacturers will be facing years of vulnerability and uncertainty.

He noted that EPA last week announced its new methodology for priority risk assessment of existing chemicals in commerce, and identified 83 substances for near-term review, with seven of those set for detailed examination this year.

He said that EPA expects to accelerate the pace of priority risk assessments in 2013 and beyond, but that it would remain a relatively slow process.

“And if you look at just the high production volume [HPV] chemicals in commerce, some 7,000 of them, you can see that we have a huge challenge ahead of us,” he said.

High production volume chemicals are those that are produced or imported in quantities of more than 450 tonnes annually. Many of them have already been profiled under a voluntary industry programme.

Jones suggested that at a pace of 10 or 20 priority risk assessments per year under the current TSCA statute, the process could drag on for generations – with consequent delays for chemical substance approvals.

“We share the same goal of safer chemicals, and the only way to get there is through TSCA reform,” Jones said. "Otherwise, we’re looking at lengthy delays and continuing vulnerability for your industry.”

Various industry officials and sources on Capitol Hill have said it is not likely that Congress will make any progress in this election year on TSCA reform.

But other industry sources have urged immediate talks and negotiations with environmental groups and congressional Democrats to facilitate prompt work on comprehensive reform of TSCA beginning early next year.

Co-sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), the GlobalChem conference runs through Wednesday.

By: Joe Kamalick
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