Chemical reform debate is on!

The newly introduced “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), which aims to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 was the biggest news in the chemical industry yesterday.

Senator Lautenberg chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health. Here are the highlights of the bill:

  • Provides EPA with sufficient information to judge a chemical’s safety. Requires manufacturers to develop and submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, while also preventing duplicative or unnecessary testing. EPA will have full authority to request additional information needed to determine the safety of a chemical.
  • Prioritizes chemicals based on risk. Calls on the EPA to categorize chemicals based on risk, and focus resources on evaluating those most likely to cause harm.
  • Ensures safety threshold is met for all chemicals on the market. Places the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their chemicals. All uses must be identified and determined safe for the chemical to enter the market or continue to be used.
  • Takes fast action to address highest risk chemicals. Requires EPA to take fast action to reduce risk from chemicals that have already been proven dangerous. In addition, the EPA Administrator is given authority to act quickly if any chemical poses an imminent hazard.
  • Creates open access to reliable chemical information. Establishes a public database to catalog the information submitted by chemical manufacturers and the EPA’s safety determinations. The EPA will impose requirements to ensure the information collected is reliable.
  • Promotes innovation and development of green chemistry. Establishes grant programs and research centers to foster the development of safe chemical alternatives, and brings some new chemicals onto the market using an expedited review process.

The burden of safety testing of all chemicals will now be under chemical producers instead of the EPA, said Lautenberg. The new bill will give EPA more power to regulate the use of considered dangerous chemicals and require manufacturers to submit information proving the safety of every chemical in production and any new chemical seeking to enter the market.

Various trade groups ranging from chemicals to downstream consumer products agree that it is time to overhaul TSCA but they also expressed their concerns in allowing states to adopt their own “regulations” concerning chemicals in commerce under the pre-emption provision, as well as the type of standards being proposed for EPA’s decision-making process. (Check out ICIS News article for more on this topic — this one has free access).

Here is one response from the American Chemistry Council (ACC):

A coalition of public health and environmental groups also put out a statement supporting the bill but pointing out some of the areas that need revisions:

  • Allow hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring them to be shown to be safe.
  • Not provide clear authority for EPA to immediately restrict production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals, which already have been extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world.
  • Not require EPA to adopt the National Academy of Sciences’ recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when determining the safety of chemicals, although the Senate bill does call on EPA to consider those recommendations.

Both sides are now watching closely (and probably camping out in DC) on how the final bill will come out from both House and Senate. Exciting times eh?

2 Responses to Chemical reform debate is on!

  1. Rihana 16 April, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    Making industrial chemicals safer is something we can all get behind. If we want safer chemicals and a safer environment then we must use nonanimal methods of testing.

    Currently, many toxicity tests are based on experiments in animals and use methods that were developed as long ago as the 1930’s; they and are slow, inaccurate, open to uncertainty and manipulation, and do not adequately protect human health. These tests take anywhere from months to years, and tens of thousands to millions of dollars to perform. More importantly, the current testing paradigm has a poor record in predicting effects in humans and an even poorer record in leading to actual regulation of dangerous chemicals.

    The blueprint for development and implementation for nonanimal testing is the National Research Council report, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy in 2007.” This report calls for a shift away from the use of animals in toxicity testing. The report also concludes that human cell- and computer-based approaches are the best way to protect human health because they allow us to understand more quickly and accurately the varied effects that chemicals can have on different groups of people. They are also more affordable and more humane.

    These methods are ideal for assessing the real world scenarios such as mixtures of chemicals, which have proven problematic using animal-based test methods. And, they’re the only way we can assess all chemicals on the market.

  2. Bob Cunningham 5 May, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    Being involved primarily in the plastics, coatings, and adhesives industry, I would suggest some more sensible registration criteria for chemicals such as high molecular weight condensation polymers (polyesters, polyurethanes, polyethers, epoxies, etc.) These “chemical species” are subject to the same rules as potentially biologically active monomers and drug intermediates when in point of fact their only hazardous form would be if molded into a club and used to beat sense into the regulatory agencies.

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