A modest proposal: ACC should support and defend President’s proposed budget increase for EPA chemical safety efforts

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

President Obama unveiled his FY2012 budget yesterday, and the news was rather bleak for EPA:  a proposed 13% decrease.  But one bright spot was a proposed $16.1 million boost in funding for EPA’s chemicals management efforts using its current limited authorities under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

That additional funding, according to EPA, is to be directed at activities to further “reduce chemical risks, increase the pace of chemical hazard assessments, and provide the public with greater access to chemical information so they can make better informed decisions about their health.  Learning more about these chemicals will help protect Americans from potential threats to their health.”

What is perhaps most refreshing is EPA’s rationale for its proposal to maintain and enhance its renewed focus on chemical safety (see pages 55-56 of this EPA budget summary):

Chemicals are often released into the environment as a result of their manufacture, processing, use, and disposal. Research shows that children are getting steady infusions of industrial chemicals before they even are given solid food. Other vulnerable groups, including low-income, minority, and indigenous populations, may also be disproportionately impacted by and thus particularly at risk from chemical exposure.

So, what would the money go to, and how will the chemical industry respond? 

As Jeremy Jacobs of Greenwire reports (subscription required) based on information provided by EPA’s press office, the additional funding will go to several activities within the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics:

  • pursuing specific risk management actions on chemicals identified as posing significant human health or environmental risks (presumably mainly under EPA’s Chemical Action Plans);
  • developing on the order of 15 detailed chemical risk assessments on priority chemicals; and
  • increasing EPA’s pace in obtaining and making public TSCA chemical health and safety and other information.

The last of these presumably includes EPA’s effort to enhance chemical data reporting scheduled to take place later this year under EPA’s Inventory Update Rule (IUR); the draft final rule for IUR enhancements was sent to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) on January 20.

It also includes extending the series of steps EPA has already taken to rein in excessive claims by the chemical industry that seek to block public access to information it submits by designating it as confidential business information.  The first fruit of EPA’s efforts was announced last week.

EPA’s press office indicates the budget increase would support EPA’s intention to review all current and 1,100 prior health and safety studies in which the identities of the chemicals in question have been masked due to CBI claims made by the companies that submitted the studies.

How will the chemical industry respond?

I’ve made the point in past blog posts that how the chemical industry reacts to these modest efforts by EPA to exercise its limited TSCA authority provides a useful lens through which to view its commitment to genuine reform.  After all, the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) much-touted principles for modernizing TSCA also call for EPA to have ample authority to get the data it needs to determine chemical safety, for the industry to bear the responsibility of providing the data it possesses or can generate, and for EPA to be able to act to control chemicals found to be dangerous.

So here’s a hopeful proposition:  I’d like to see ACC and its member companies come out and promptly, publicly and forcefully work to support, promote and defend this modest proposed increase in EPA’s budget that can help to protect public health while also to helping to restore at least a modicum of public and market confidence in the ability of our government to effectively address chemical safety.

How about, it ACC?

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