WASHINGTON — An effort to make basic health data available for the most widely used chemicals, including plastic monomers and additives, does not seem likely to uncover any surprises for plastics, industry officials are predicting.
The High Production Volume Challenge is a joint effort by the chemical industry, environmentalists and regulators to make basic health data on the materials widely available. It was spurred in part by an Environmental Defense Fund report that said data could not be found publicly for 71 percent of the chemicals.
Eight of the 10 highest-volume chemicals in the United States are used to manufacture plastics, including the top three: ethylene, propylene and ethylene dichloride, according to the Chemical Manufacturers Association in Arlington, Va.
But according to several industry officials, much of the testing for plastics already has been done — it is just a matter of dusting off the files and, for the first time, making them available to the public.
``What I've found is that for most of the plastics-related chemicals, a lot of the data is available,'' said Don Lamb, vice president of product safety and regulatory affairs at Pittsburgh-based Bayer Corp.
``There is a difference between what data is available and what data is publicly available,'' Lamb said. ``Probably 50-70 percent of it is not available publicly.''
The company has a significant amount of testing to do on its chemicals, but not on plastics, he said.
The data may have been submitted confidentially to the Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency for regulatory approval for products. Only the companies can make the data available, said Mary Dominiak, environmental protection specialist in EPA's chemical control division and an HPV staffer.
About 190 companies making 1,100 chemicals have volunteered to make their data available or conduct additional testing. A total of 3,000 chemicals are covered by the program, but companies have until Dec. 1 to volunteer.
``We're delighted,'' she said. ``That is one heck of a response.''
Volunteering also allows companies to avoid compliance with an expected EPA rule on testing and disclosure, she said. Companies that volunteer have more flexibility to group similar chemicals, saving money and some reporting requirements, Dominiak said.
The testing probably will cost the chemical industry about $500 million, but that figure is dropping because companies are trying to pool resources and group similar chemicals so only one of a family has to be tested, according to CMA spokesman Thomas Gilroy.
EPA officials said they will be monitoring how chemicals are grouped for testing.
The program is a cooperative effort of the EPA, CMA and EDF. The goal is to complete testing by 2004.
David Roe, a senior lawyer with New York-based EDF, said he has not seen any private data from companies, but it is his impression that the plastics industry is a ``likely candidate'' to have done much of the testing already.
Companies had little incentive to make the data available publicly before the program, so negative assumptions should not be made about private studies, Roe said.
``The question we are trying to answer is how many of those thousands of other chemicals are potential PCBs,'' Roe said. ``That does not mean that they are.''