Selected category: TSCA Reform

Playing fair: The need for parity in challenging EPA’s decisions on the safety of chemicals under TSCA

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

As Senate and House negotiators are working to reconcile their Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform bills, in addition to resolving the higher-profile issues, there is a need to pay attention to the important details.  This post gives one example of an issue that may seem esoteric, but goes to the core of how the new law would actually function and hence needs to be addressed.

Doesn’t it make sense that someone who believes EPA erred in determining that a chemical is safe be able to challenge that decision in a manner that is on par with a challenge of an EPA decision that a chemical is not safe?

Yet this parity is a feature only of the Senate’s TSCA reform legislation, not the House’s.  Here’s why:   Read More »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy| Tagged , | Comments are closed

Compromise that strengthens, not weakens, TSCA is the key to getting a new law

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

My recent blog post about the public’s right to know the names of chemicals in health and safety studies brought a response from the Vice President for Government and Public Relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), a trade association of specialty chemical firms.

The response devotes considerable space to arguing for something we don’t oppose:  why it’s important for a company to be able to protect information relating to the process by which a chemical is made.  We have no quarrel with that:  EDF has never sought to change the provision of TSCA that precludes EPA from disclosing such information, even in the context of a health and safety study.  That provision is preserved in both the Senate and House bills, and that has been and remains acceptable to us.

Let me be crystal clear:  EDF has not sought to alter TSCA’s requirement that EPA withhold the identity of a chemical even in a health and safety study if revealing that identity would reveal process information.

What we do strongly oppose, however, is the effort to expand TSCA’s exclusion so as to allow a company always to hide from the public the identity of the chemical in a health and safety study – even where knowing that chemical’s name would not reveal the process used to make it.  That is exactly what the provision in the House TSCA reform bill that SOCMA is pressing for would do.

This would be a major weakening of current TSCA that would severely limit the public’s right to know about health and environmental impacts of chemicals in use today.

SOCMA’s response argues this would be okay for two reasons:  First, EPA will know the chemical’s identity, so no one else needs to know.  And second, the public should be content with a “generic” name.  Let me briefly address each of these arguments.   Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy| Tagged , | Comments are closed

Will private interests trump public ones when it comes to our right to know under TSCA?

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

Why this matters …

… to an exposed worker

Today: You are a worker handling a new product. You look at the label, which lists it as containing the chemical dimethyl doorknob. You want to know what health information is available on the chemical, so you go to EPA’s TSCA chemical information databases and search for dimethyl doorknob. You find several studies EPA has received from a company indicating it found dimethyl doorknob to be a potent carcinogen in animal studies it conducted. This is because, under EPA’s TSCA CBI policy, EPA has declassified those studies, making them public and linking them to dimethyl doorknob. You are now able to alert your coworkers and management, and press for actions to reduce or eliminate your exposure to dimethyl doorknob.
If SOCMA gets its way: You are a worker handling a product containing the same chemical. You do your search and find none of the studies EPA has received. This is because under SOCMA’s TSCA, the company was able to claim the identity of dimethyl doorknob to be CBI when it submitted the studies, and EPA could not challenge the claim; it made the studies public – but did not link them to dimethyl doorknob.

… to an environmental health researcher

Today: You are a university-based researcher studying the water quality in a local town. You identify a chemical – unobtanium trichloride – in water samples you’ve collected that has quadrupled in concentration since a local business significantly expanded its production. You want to know what health information is available on unobtanium trichloride, so you go to EPA’s TSCA chemical information databases and search for unobtanium trichloride. You find several studies EPA has received from a company indicating it found unobtanium trichloride to cause birth defects in animal studies it conducted at levels at or below those you’re seeing in the water the submitted studies. This is because, under EPA’s TSCA CBI policy, EPA has declassified those studies, making them public and linking them to unobtanium trichloride. You are now able to alert state authorities of your findings, which leads it to tighten restrictions on discharges of wastewater from the company’s production site containing unobtanium trichloride. The cost of these additional regulations leads the company to reformulate its product, eliminating altogether the use of unobtanium trichloride.
If SOCMA gets its way: You are the same university-based researcher. You do your search and find nothing. This is because under SOCMA’s TSCA, the company was able to claim the identity of unobtanium trichloride to be CBI when it submitted the studies, and EPA could not challenge the claim; it made the studies public – but did not link them to unobtanium trichloride.

One of the few bright spots of the original Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was Congress’ clear intention that the public have access to health and safety information on chemicals and mixtures.

The very first section of the 1976 law expressly states:  “It is the policy of the United States that adequate data should be developed with respect to the effect of chemical substances and mixtures on health and the environment.”  The law goes on to expressly exclude “data from health and safety studies” submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from the reach of TSCA’s confidential business information (CBI) provisions, by stating that those provisions do not prohibit disclosure of health and safety information.  Congress provided only two narrow exceptions:  where disclosure of such information would disclose the process by which a chemical is made or processed, or the portion of a mixture that a particular chemical comprises.

Now some in the chemical industry are brazenly pressing to thwart that original intent, by codifying into the law the ability of companies to black out the names of chemicals when health and safety studies they submit on a chemical are released to the public.

The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), a trade association of specialty chemical manufacturers, is publicly taking credit for adding a provision to the House’s TSCA reform legislation that would do just that.  In its annual report, SOCMA touted “successfully inserting provisions strengthening Confidential Business Information protections.”  (SOCMA also took credit for the fact that the House bill maintains TSCA’s current New Chemicals provisions, another of its severe weakness about which I blogged last week.)

Should SOCMA get its way and its pet provision ends up in the final TSCA legislation, then you – whether you are a worker, consumer, business, researcher, or concerned member of the public – would get to learn that a new study shows a chemical in a product you may make, use, study or are otherwise exposed to is, say, a potent human carcinogen.  What you would not be allowed to know, however, is what chemical it is!  How useless is that?

See the sidebar for why this matters.

More background for TSCA geeks

I’ll spend the remainder of this post diving a little deeper into the law and history on this issue that SOCMA seeks to wipe out with just a few words inserted into a bill.   Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy| Tagged , | Comments are closed

Why significant but balanced changes are needed to TSCA's new chemicals provisions

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

A key need for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is making enhancements to the law's provisions addressing new chemicals prior to their commercial manufacture.  The Senate bill makes moderate but critical improvements to these provisions.

These improvements arose through extended negotiations that sought to carefully balance two legitimate competing interests:  On the one hand, ensuring that the safety of new chemicals is carefully examined and a reasonable assurance of safety is provided before market entry – which the current law does not provide.  On the other hand, ensuring an efficient short process is utilized that doesn’t unduly slow or create too high a bar for market entry or have the unintended consequence of impeding innovation – which the current law does provide.

That balance was struck through a set of provisions that:

  • require for the first time that EPA make an affirmative safety finding as a condition for market entry, but using a standard – that a new chemical is likely to meet the safety standard – that is lower than that applicable to existing chemicals undergoing full reviews;
  • maintain current TSCA’s typical 90-day review period for new chemicals, even shortening that period when EPA can make a positive safety determination more quickly;
  • ensure that new chemicals can’t enter the market when information is not sufficient to make an affirmative safety finding, while retaining TSCA’s lack of a requirement for a minimum up-front data set for new chemicals; and
  • require EPA to carefully consider the need to extend to other companies any conditions or restrictions it places on a company that first brings a chemical into commerce, and either do so or explain why that is not needed.

I believe that this compromise, while unlikely to please anyone completely, represents significant improvement over the status quo, retaining its positive features while addressing its shortcomings.

There is actually considerable support that has been voiced for this balanced approach, including from industry and from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as groups like my own.   Read More »

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EPA and business find much to like in Senate’s TSCA reform bill

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

In the last day, two news outlets, Politico (“Administration largely sides with Senate negotiators in TSCA talks”) and CQ (“On Toxic Chemical Bills, Administration Prefers Senate's”), published articles about two letters recently issued on pending TSCA reform bills in the Senate and House. Both articles are well worth reading but are behind a paywall, so I’m providing a brief summary and links to the letters here for those without access to these Hill publications.

One letter was signed by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on behalf of the Administration.  It identifies provisions in each bill that EPA prefers or has concerns about, based on the Administration’s TSCA reform principles.

The other letter was drafted by the American Alliance for Innovation (AAI), a large coalition of business interests, which provides a list of its “conference priorities.”  (While it does not directly cite either bill, it identifies provisions AAI seeks to retain in or jettison from the final bill.)

These two letters are the latest in a series of comparisons of the two measures by interested parties, issued as House and Senate negotiators look to reconcile differences between them.  We have blogged previously on the preferences and concerns expressed by two groups of state authorities (links to their assessments are provided in that post).

While the documents differ with respect to the scope of issues they address, the common characteristic of all four is that each identifies significantly more provisions they prefer in the Senate bill’s more comprehensive approach, compared to House bill.

Of course the goal is to get to the best law possible. EDF is confident that legislators on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers of Congress, are working hard to reach agreement on a strong bill to send to the president. The opportunity has never been so near at hand, if Congress can just finish the job.

Also posted in Health Policy| Tagged , | Comments are closed

State authorities weigh in on Senate and House TSCA reform bills

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

In recent weeks, two documents have been released by state government officials and organizations that take a deep dive into those aspects of the Senate and House bills to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) most relevant to them.  The documents explicitly point to specific provisions in one or both bills that are preferred or opposed.

The bills the documents compare are the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697), passed by the full Senate on December 17, 2015; and the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576), passed by the House of Representatives on June 23, 2015.

Here are the documents:

  • Environmental Council of the States (ECOS): An 11-page table dated January 7, 2016 posted in the “Featured” section of ECOS’ home page provides a side-by-side comparison of the two bills, focused mainly but not exclusively on state-federal relationship issues.  (Note that the preamble to the table indicates it does not represent a formal consensus, and many of the indications of preferences begin with a qualifier such as “Many states believe … .”)
  • 12 State AGs letter: A 7-page letter dated January 19, 2016 signed by the Attorneys General of 12 states (MA, CA, HI, IA, ME, MD, NH, NY, OR, RI, VT and WA) to the relevant Senate and House committee Chairmen and Ranking Members sets forth principles for state-federal relationships under TSCA reform and provides recommendations for reconciling those provisions of the Senate and House bills.

Both documents are well worth reading in their entireties.  To help me understand them, I have developed the table below that lists each specific provision identified in these documents for which a preference or opposition has been expressed or is readily discernible with respect to the Senate or House bill.   Read More »

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