House TSCA reform discussion draft: Major problem #1 – EPA regulatory hoops

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

Imagine the following scenario under a new TSCA based on the House discussion draft issued last week:  A major consumer products company decides to expand its line of air fresheners with a new peppermint flavor.  After introducing the new product, information surfaces indicating that one of the product’s ingredients that imparts that aroma causes mutations in a standard genetic toxicity test.

Based on the high hazard and exposure potential, EPA designates the chemical as high priority, requires additional data to be generated, and conducts its safety assessment, concluding the chemical is very likely to be a human carcinogen and poses significant risk when inhaled at levels associated with normal use of the air freshener.

EPA’s safety determination concludes the chemical “will result in an unreasonable risk of harm to human health,” and so EPA initiates the requisite rulemaking to restrict use of the chemical.  Under the House discussion draft (section 6(f)(4)), here’s what EPA would have to prove in order to take any regulatory action:

  • its restriction is “proportional” to the risk involved;
  • the restriction “will result in net benefits;”
  • the restriction is “cost-effective” compared to all alternative restrictions;

AND, here’s the real kicker:

  • there are “technically and economically feasible alternatives that materially reduce risk to human health or the environment compared to the use proposed to be prohibited.”

In other words, before it could act, EPA would have to find a safer, ready-off-the-shelf alternative peppermint flavor for the consumer products company to use instead of the human carcinogen.  And all of the burden of proof – of proportionality, net benefits, cost-effectiveness, technical feasibility, economic feasibility and comparative safety – would rest entirely on EPA and none of it on the company that markets the product or makes the chemical for that intended use.

Something just doesn’t smell right, wouldn’t you say?

These provisions of the House discussion draft would take what is arguably the most fatal flaw in current TSCA – EPA’s inability to regulate dangerous chemicals due to an onerous and paralyzing cost-benefit analysis requirement – and actually make it worse.  While the draft would strike TSCA’s requirement that EPA show any restriction it proposes is the “least burdensome,” it would replace it with evidentiary and analytic burdens that are even more onerous and paralyzing.

There’s a far better and fairer way to deal with the scenario I’ve outlined:  Give EPA the authority to grant exemptions for certain uses of an unsafe chemical – but only for uses that are critical or essential.  That would ensure EPA can effectively restrict non-critical or essential uses of dangerous chemicals.

The seeds of this exemption approach are planted in the Senate’s Chemical Safety Improvement Act (in section 6(c)(10)), although there are other major problems with those provisions of CSIA as introduced (happily, considerable progress toward resolving those problems has been made in the ongoing negotiations on CSIA).

Here’s how an exemption process should work:  EPA would have authority to grant exemptions for uses of an unsafe chemical it finds to be critical or essential.  And companies who believe their use of a chemical is critical or essential could seek such an exemption – but the burden would be on them to show there are no safer, viable alternatives.  The exemptions would be time-limited, and renewable if the need for the exemption is demonstrated to remain.  And EPA would have full authority to impose conditions on such uses needed to protect human health and the environment.

But to force EPA – as the House discussion draft would do – to have to find for a company viable, safer alternatives to a dangerous chemical for each and every use of that chemical it proposes to restrict is simply preposterous.

 

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