US flame retardants issue at centre of TSCA reform battle

24 July 2012 19:21  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The growing controversy over flame retardants and their human health effects has become a prime example of why the US should reform its principal chemicals control law, officials told a Senate panel on Tuesday.

James Jones, an administrator with the office of chemical safety and pollution prevention within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the agency’s long-standing efforts to determine the environmental status of flame retardants “stands as a clear illustration of the need for TSCA reform”.

TSCA, the 36-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act, is the principal legal authority for EPA regulation of chemicals in commerce.

The committee was hearing testimony on Tuesday regarding the EPA’s declared inability to fully and definitively determine the health and environmental risks of flame retardants under TSCA.

Tuesday’s hearing was seen as a curtain-raiser for another Environment and Public Works Committee meeting on Wednesday in which a Democrat-sponsored bill to modernise TSCA is expected to be completed and approved for consideration by the full Senate.

In his testimony, Jones said that the EPA first reviewed a new flame retardant compound in 1995 for use in polyurethane foam and was unable to identify bioaccumulative or toxic effects.

Later, however, “after the chemicals were in commerce, information became available that showed the chemicals were being found in humans and the environment”, Jones said.

“This is an example that highlights the critical need for the agency to have greater evidence that new chemicals are safe prior to commercialisation and to be able to take effective action after commercialisation,” he said.

Marshall Moore, director of technology at Great Lakes Solutions, a unit of flame retardants producer Chemtura Corp, told the panel that some of the public and media attention to flame retardants this year is “inaccurate and misleading”.

Moore told the committee that the EPA had required “rigorous review” of Chemtura’s Firemaster 550 retardant, which was developed to provide equal or better fire protection but with an improved environmental profile.

He said that Chemtura submitted 15 studies to the EPA, including those on potential exposure to consumers and the potential for bioaccumulation.

“Based on these studies, our scientists concluded – and EPA agreed – that TBB [the component in Firemaster 550] is less persistent and less likely to bioaccumulate than the product it replaced,” Moore said.

But Moore also voiced support for TSCA reform, telling the committee that “we believe TSCA can be modernised to be more efficient, to use current scientific technologies, and to reflect our improved understanding of how chemicals interact with the human body and the environment”.

Senator James Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the panel, was critical of the Democrats’ plan to give committee approval on Wednesday to S-847, the “Safe Chemicals Act”, which has no Republican support and is widely opposed by industry.

That bill, which has been re-introduced several times in recent years by Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey), has been broadly criticised by the US chemicals industry and other manufacturing interests as not workable and a US version of the European Reach programme.

Inhofe said that he and other Republicans on the Democrat-majority committee were disappointed that their “sincere efforts to work on bipartisan TSCA reform have been rebuffed and that we will be going through a partisan political exercise tomorrow, effectively ending hopes for TSCA modernisation this year”.

Although Lautenberg’s bill is expected to be approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, and could well win passage by the full Senate, it is not expected to get any traction or even consideration in the Republican-controlled House.

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

By: Joe Kamalick
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