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Talk continues about changes to chemical regulations, but no action yet

By: Gayle S. Putrich

February 4, 2014

WASHINGTON – Changes to chemical regulation that would ultimately impact the plastics industry are imperceptibly limping along in Congress, even in the face of the December chemical spill in West Virginia that riled some lawmakers who were already pushing for change.

A House subcommittee quizzed witnesses from industry and health and environmental groups Feb. 4 on what they believe works—and what doesn't—in the sections of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that require testing and reporting.

Industry representatives maintained that companies, specifically those farthest upstream in manufacturing processes, conduct chemical tests on their products on their own, without demands from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which administrates TSCA.

But as it stands, the law "significantly burdens EPA" by requiring the agency to demonstrate that a chemical is potentially dangerous before it can force the companies to hand over their testing data, testified Dr. Jerry Paulson of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Companies should be required to release information to EPA," Paulson said. "EPA shouldn't have to ask for it."

But no company wants to run the risk of revealing proprietary information to competitors or making their intellectual property available to the world by way of an EPA chemical database.

"It's not that I want to hide any hazard information, but I would like to keep my chemical ID confidential," said Beth Bosley, president of Boron Specialties, LLC, who testified on behalf of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates.

Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said that TSCA is in serious need of "rational modernization," but urged lawmakers not to hobble industry in the process.

"I urge congress to make sure that we don't inhibit the manufacturing renaissance by allowing a patchwork of state-by-state regulations," Drevna said. "This calls for federal action. Great care must be taken so that manufacturing supply chains are not disrupted.

Later in the day, in the Senate, a hearing on the chemical spill in West Virginia's Elk River also brought up TSCA's failings, particularly in terms of its requirements for testing and reporting on chemical storage facilities.

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) -- proposed last May by co-authors Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., as a compromise bill after more than a decade of disagreements on revamping TSCA -- would require safety testing of all chemicals on the market as well as new chemicals, and would grant the EPA authority to phase out or ban chemicals deemed harmful, from flame retardants to building materials to bisphenol A. While the bill has drawn 25 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle and hearings have been held, the measure to revamp TSCA remains parked with the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.