Selected category: TSCA Reform

TSCA reform on hold again – and over what this time?

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

Well, it looks like American families will have to wait a bit longer for better protection from toxic chemicals, with today’s decision by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to place a hold on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.  Earlier this week, the House passed the legislation by a vote of 403-12, and it was due to come to Senate floor today – until Sen. Paul announced his hold.

Arguing that he needed more time to review the bill, Sen. Paul cited brand new concerns over two provisions that were already in the Senate bill when it came to the Senate floor last December by unanimous consent and passed on a voice vote with no objections.  Those provisions involve criminal penalties and state preemption.  Let’s look at each:   Read More »

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Initial analyses of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act

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

Based on the text of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act posted today, I have prepared the following analyses of the bill:

I hope these analyses are useful to those interested in understanding this complex piece of legislation.

 

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Historic deal on TSCA reform reached, setting stage for a new law after 40 years of waiting

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

House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a final reconciled bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), our nation’s badly broken chemical safety law.  The final text of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was posted today, and is set to be voted on by the full House tomorrow, with Senate consideration expected to follow later this week.

Negotiations to reconcile the two chambers’ quite different reform bills, both passed last year, reached a feverish pace in the last few weeks, leading to today’s historic breakthrough.

The result is a final bill that, while a compromise, is a substantial improvement over current law.  The bill adopts the comprehensive approach taken by the Senate bill, while sticking closer to the structure of current TSCA, as did the House bill.  Negotiators adopted the House bill’s construct of risk evaluations over the Senate’s safety assessments and determinations, while largely adopting the Senate approach to reforming TSCA’s new chemicals program, establishing a prioritization process applicable to all chemicals, and updating the inventory of chemicals active in commerce.  The bill’s chemical testing provision is more of an amalgam of the two bills and negotiators agreed to leave several sections of TSCA (e.g., exports and imports) largely untouched, as the House bill had done.

Overall, the new bill makes significant improvements to all of TSCA’s core provisions.  Read More »

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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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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