Anticipating a flood of chemical-toxicity information that will be made available on the Internet in the next few years, the chemical industry is hoping to work with environmental groups to present exposure and risk information to the public. One advantage to working with frequent critics: Industry officials figure that an industry-only effort would not have as much credibility.
"We are acknowledging that the industry has to do its part by making more exposure data available, so that people will feel comfortable with the end result," said Larry Games, head of the industry effort and vice president of professional and regulatory services at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co.
"We've got an obligation to be more forthcoming with the data than we have been," he said.
Officials with two groups that had been contacted — Environmental Defense (formerly Environmental Defense Fund) and the National Environmental Trust — said they are open to talking and could see value in presenting more risk information.
Industry wants the effort to expand on a partnership of the Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Defense and the Chemical Manufacturers Association to provide toxicity information on high production volume chemicals, Games said.
Arlington, Va.-based CMA and 13 other chemical companies and trade groups announced March 24 they are forming the Alliance for Chemical Awareness, because they are concerned that the HPV program will not give the public enough information to know how much or how little risk they face from chemicals to which they are exposed, he said.
But the environmental groups cautioned that categorizing risk could be much more complex than the CMA-ED-EPA HPV partnership, because that earlier effort dealt only with toxicity, which is more straightforward.
In any case, the talks illustrate the dramatic way the Internet is pushing much more chemical information to the public.
Eight of the 10 highest volume chemicals in the United States are used to make plastics, but industry officials have predicted that much of the basic health testing for plastics already has been done and only needs to be released.
Risk assessment figures prominently in plastics debates such as whether people are exposed to too high of a level of phthalates from PVC toys and medical products, or whether bisphenol-A leaches out of polycarbonate baby bottles at high enough levels to cause concern.
The ACA includes CMA, several smaller chemical trade groups and seven large chemical firms, including Ashland Inc., Bayer Corp., Dow Chemical Co., DuPont and Eastman Chemical Co.
P&G and S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. also are members.
Games hopes to get environmental and government partners on board in three months, and said the group needs to make a proposal in 12 months.
He declined to say what ACA would do if it cannot get additional partners, but said the effort would have much more credibility if it had more than just industry participants.
Patricia Kenworthy, vice president of government affairs at the National Environmental Trust in Washington, supports talking, but said industry must be willing to make the process open.
"If what you end up doing is taking exposure data and then, behind closed doors at CMA, doing your own assessment, that kind of assessment is not associated with very much credibility," she said.
Kenworthy, who until three years ago was director of regulatory affairs for Monsanto Co., said she believes basic testing has not been done on many chemicals in wide use.
"They are putting high production volume chemicals out on the marketplace without testing," she said. "That is distressing."
She said toxicity and exposure data could be too limited on many chemicals to do a full-blown risk assessment, but said a less formal risk characterization could be done and would be valuable.
Karen Florini, a senior attorney with New York-based Environmental Defense, said ED wants to talk but has not made any commitments.
Games said ACA is a low budget affair with no full-time staff, but may expand to communicate its message with the public. Its Web address is www.chemical awareness.org.