[Pharmwaste] EPA unveils plan to review 6 controversial chemicals, reform US toxics policy

DeBiasi,Deborah Deborah.DeBiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Thu Oct 1 09:49:21 EDT 2009


EPA unveils plan to review 6 controversial chemicals, reform US toxics

President Obama's top environmental official announced a new push to
transform the way the nation regulates toxic chemicals that may endanger
people and the environment. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Administrator Lisa Jackson called the workings of a 1976 law
'inordinately cumbersome and time-consuming' and said the administration
will promote a new chemical law in Congress.In the meantime, the EPA
will analyze and regulate six high-profile, widely used chemicals that
have raised health concerns, including BPA and phthalates. 

By Jane Kay

Environmental Health News

September 29, 2009

 Reporting from San Francisco

Saying that the public is "understandably anxious and confused" about
chemicals in their bodies and in their environment, President Obama's
top environmental official announced on Tuesday a new push to transform
the way the nation regulates industrial compounds.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson called
the nation's 1976 toxics law "inordinately cumbersome and
time-consuming."  As a result, she said the Obama Administration will
promote a new chemical law in Congress in the coming months that puts
the responsibility on industry to prove that its compounds are safe.

In the meantime, Jackson said, the EPA will begin to analyze and
regulate six high-profile chemicals that have raised health concerns.
Included are bisphenol A, or BPA, found in hard, clear polycarbonate
bottles, and phthalates, which are used in vinyl and cosmetics.

Also targeted are brominated flame retardants added to electronics and
other goods; perfluorinated compounds used in manufacturing non-stick
coatings and food packaging; some parafins, used in lubricants, and
benzidine dyes and pigments. Many scientists say these chemicals can
mimic hormones and obstruct development of fetuses and children, as well
as possibly cause reproductive problems, cancer or other health effects.

Jackson's announcement signals a dramatic shift away from the policy of
the Bush administration. Top EPA officials who testified before Congress
three years ago defended the Toxic Substances Control Act as effective
in safeguarding public health from industrial chemicals.

Jackson said the EPA is gathering data from industry on the six
chemicals so the agency can assess their safety and develop action plans
with firm deadlines to limit exposure. The EPA may restrict their use or
require labels on consumer products to warn of risks. The agency already
has such authority under the existing law, she said.

The EPA will start with the six high-profile chemicals, then add more.
EPA officials said they will post four "chemical action plans" in
December describing how they will handle the initial compounds, and then
post plans for more chemicals in four-month intervals.

Some 80,000 chemicals-some of them widely used in consumer products--are
in commerce today, and some lack detailed health and safety data.
Jackson said the agency and the manufacturers will review and act on
chemicals with the highest priority in a timely manner.

"As more and more chemicals are found in our bodies and the environment,
the public is understandably anxious and confused. Many are turning to
government for assurance that chemicals have been assessed using the
best available science, and that unacceptable risks haven't been
ignored," Jackson told an audience of several hundred people during a
speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Tuesday night.

An audience member asked if the EPA would add the right of citizens to
sue for non-compliance of the law, a provision that lies within the
Clean Water Act.

"That's a great idea," she said, and "it was certainly something to

She credited citizens and states with taking their own steps to manage
industrial chemicals, and said it differentiated new environmentalism
from old environmentalism.

"The power of citizenry should never be ignored," she said. For example,
mothers of infants concerned about chemical exposure have prompted many
manufacturers to produce BPA-free baby bottles.

Jackson made the announcement during her first trip to California as
head of the EPA.  California last year enacted new chemical legislation,
which is designed to spur stronger regulations to manage chemicals.

Representatives of environmental groups that have been participating in
talks with the EPA and industry praised the administration for its plan.

In addition, the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical
manufacturers, says it has agreed in principle to "supply some level of
support" to pay for more increased study and other efforts to assess the
safety of compounds.

"We understand that industry has to provide more data and a greater
transparency to that data," said Cal Dooley, president of the American
Chemistry Council. One of the driving forces of the industry's
participation is the desire to win consumer confidence in products and
to regain world leadership in chemical safety, Dooley said.

Under the current law, some 7,000 chemicals are produced or imported
annually in amounts above 25,000 pounds, according to industry figures.

Only five have been banned or restricted since the law was enacted 33
years ago. The law requires the EPA to prove a toxic substance "presents
an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment," consider
the costs of restricting its use and choose "the least burdensome"
approach to regulate industry.

Asbestos was banned in most uses, but it was thrown out of court when
the manufacturers won a court battle in 1989.

"The asbestos decision had a chilling effect" on EPA, Jackson said.

Legislation to reform the law  is expected to be introduced this fall by
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL).  

Jackson released a set of principles that she hoped would guide

The EPA isn't focused as much on rewriting the existing law as it is on
coming up with a new one that would strengthen the agency's ability to
protect the public, she said.

Under the set of principles announced Tuesday, EPA would require
manufacturers to supply enough information to conclude that new and
existing chemicals are safe and don't endanger public health or the
environment. The EPA also wants clear authority to ban or restrict
chemicals, although it would retain flexibility to consider social
benefits and costs.

Representatives of the Environmental Working Group, Earthjustice and the
Breast Cancer Action Fund question how the new regulatory program might
work. Rick Hind of Greenpeace wonders if legislation would pre-empt
state action, since some states already have taken action against
several chemicals.

Both EPA and industry officials said today they wouldn't attempt to
pre-empt state action at this time. Industry officials prefer a federal
law to what they describe as a "patchwork" of state controls.

Many experts say the United States has fallen far behind in regulating
toxic substances. In 2007, the European Union began implementing the
world's most restrictive chemicals law. It requires manufacturers to
provide basic data on the properties of thousands of chemical
substances. The European Chemicals Agency then will review the
chemicals, and require substitution of the most dangerous ones.

Deborah L. DeBiasi 
Email:   Deborah.DeBiasi at deq.virginia.gov (NEW!)
WEB site address:  www.deq.virginia.gov 
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality 
Office of Water Permit Programs 
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program 
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents 
Mail:          P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218 (NEW!) 
Location:  629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA  23219 
PH:         804-698-4028 
FAX:      804-698-4032 

More information about the Pharmwaste mailing list