ARLINGTON, VA. — The Environmental Protection Agency wants the plastics industry to take part in a voluntary testing program for chemicals — including some plastic additives and monomers — that children could be exposed to frequently. The program is part of the EPA's ongoing effort to get more public data on the health effects of chemicals, similar to the voluntary High Production Volume testing program. Essentially, the agency hopes to answer basic questions about how toxic the chemicals are.
EPA hopes to get plastics and chemical companies, environmentalists and animal welfare groups to sign on, and many said they want to work cooperatively. But some significant differences remain, and EPA officials are not ruling out regulations that would force testing.
The plastics industry, for example, wants a tiered testing approach that would limit how many advanced tests are done, based on the results of earlier tests, said H. Patrick Toner, a Gaithersburg, Md., consultant who is representing the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in the talks.
And SPI wants the program to consider not only what hazard the chemical poses, but how much exposure a child could have, to put data in context, he said.
A preliminary EPA list of 45 chemicals includes many of interest to the industry: styrene; vinylidenechloride, used to make PVDC; diethyl hexyl adipate, a plasticizer; ethylene dichloride; and several phthalates, including di(2-ethylhexyl). The EPA list does not include bisphenol A or diisononylphthalate, although EPA officials said the latter may be added.
The Styrene Information and Research Center urged EPA to take styrene off the list, because it is already being reviewed for health effects by a separate EPA program.
SPI, the Chemical Manufacturers Association and about 15 other groups met publicly with EPA in Arlington on April 26-27. EPA wants to formally unveil the program this summer, two years after Vice President Gore first suggested such an effort in a 1998 Earth Day address.
The Chemical Manufacturers Association, which is leading the industry effort, said the EPA's current draft is much improved. But CMA representatives said they still want a strict-tiered approach and strong consideration of exposure to put data in context.
"A tiered approach can use the same resources to evaluate a wider range of chemicals than testing all chemicals with every test," said Don Lamb, vice president of product safety and regulatory affairs for Bayer Corp. in Pittsburgh.
The question of resources is important: SPI estimated it will cost companies several times the $150,000-$300,000 they will spend on each chemical in the HPV program, the big voluntary testing effort that the children's proposal is based on.
The EPA proposal does call for a tiered approach, which is a change from early agency proposals. But EPA officials said they do not think the strict-tiered approach advocated by CMA can work.
Most of the chemicals selected probably will undergo a great many of the tests, said Wardner Penberthy, associate director of the chemical control division in EPA.
CMA's proposal, for example, would say that if a chemical tests positive only for reproductive toxicity in tier one, then tests in later tiers should be limited just to that.
But environmentalists do not like the tiered approach because they argue that little information is publicly available or known about how toxic many of the chemicals are.
Tiering is not appropriate for chemicals found in human tissues, like many on EPA's list, since the tiered approach means that more accurate — and more expensive — tests may not be done on all the chemicals, said Karen Florini, an attorney with Environmental Defense.
"It appears that EPA's basis for proposing a tiered system is the fact that the Chemical Manufacturers Association and other industry representatives want such an approach," she said in a prepared statement.
Florini said exposure data should be considered, and EPA officials said their latest proposal gives much more weight to exposure information.
The highest-ranking EPA official at the meeting, Associate Assistant Administrator James Aidala, said many differences clearly remain, but he said that "we are very much trying to find a workable common ground for a voluntary program."