Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.
In what seemed a startling move, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) last week gave testimony at a Congressional hearing that included a full-throated endorsement of mandating that EPA be required to assess cumulative impacts when developing regulations addressing chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
The call for cumulative impact assessment was a contentious element in last year’s debate over the safety standard that would apply to chemicals under a reformed TSCA. Reform advocates supported assessing such impacts where the science allows, while ACC had staunchly opposed the concept. The need to account for cumulative impacts is also a key recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences, in its recent reports Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment (2009) and Phthalates and Cumulative Risk Assessment: The Tasks Ahead (2008).
Ah, but the devil is indeed in the details: ACC’s apparent change of heart is no such thing. Rather, ACC is endorsing a step that would make it even harder for EPA to act to control dangerous chemicals under TSCA, namely that the agency would have to consider the cumulative impact of all prior regulations affecting a given industry before it could propose a new one. As reasonable as that sounds, when added to an already dizzying array of hoops EPA must jump through to get any regulation through the rulemaking process, its practical effect will be to further stymie EPA’s efforts to protect people and the environment from toxic chemical exposures.
And whatever its merits, ACC’s endorsement of the concept of cumulative impact assessment in one context even as it rails against it in another begs the question: Why isn’t what’s good for the goose also good for the gander?
To see what I mean, let’s try out a little rewrite of some of ACC’s statements.
ACC said: “It is imperative that we have an accurate understanding of the impact of proposed regulations on industry. The full regulatory burden for a particular sector can only be known if the cumulative impact of overlapping regulations is identified.”
We say: “It is imperative that we have an accurate understanding of the impact of chemical exposures on people. The full health burden for a particular population can only be known if the cumulative impact of overlapping exposures is identified.”
ACC said: “The lack of cumulative impact assessments is a fundamental shortcoming in the way government agencies develop and evaluate proposed rules.”
We say: “The lack of cumulative impact assessments is a fundamental shortcoming in the way government agencies develop and evaluate chemical risk assessments.”
ACC recommended: “Track the sectors affected by new regulations so the most heavily regulated sectors can be easily identified and regulations can be streamlined appropriately.”
We recommend: “Track the populations affected by chemical exposures so the most heavily exposed populations can be easily identified and regulations can be targeted appropriately.”
Gosh, that only makes sense.
Seems like ACC likes cumulative impact assessment when it thinks it can protect the health of the chemical industry, but fights it tooth-and-nail when it comes to protecting the health of the rest of us.