The head of a major downstream chemical industry association says reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act is not only needed, but is in the best interest of chemical producers.
The public concern over the safety of chemicals is only going to grow, said Ernie Rosenberg, president and CEO of the Washington-based American Cleaning Institute.
As part of their sustainability efforts, retailers are putting more pressure on companies to ensure product safety, he said.
We often [stop using] chemicals because of public pressure, but that doesn't always serve the best interests of the public, Rosenberg said at GlobalChem in Baltimore, held March 21-23. We want to reduce deselection when it is not based on the likelihood of minimizing risk but instead is based on emotional issues that surface in a community, region or state, he said.
However, until the public is confident that the Environmental Protection Agency possesses the authority it needs under TSCA to protect the public health, retailers are going to increasingly be the regulators, he said.
We really want TSCA reform, said Rosenberg of ACI, which represents firms that formulate chemicals for liquid and powdered home and institutional cleaning products. We absolutely need to have a credible federal program to dampen the desire for state and local programs. Local and state chemical regulation has the effect of fracturing how soaps, detergents and other products can be sold nationally, he said.
But federal reform of TSCA isn't likely for 2011.
Rosenberg is not sure how to resolve the differences between what the chemical industry sees as the best way to modernize TSCA vs. how both EPA and NGOs non-government organizations would like to see the 35-year-old law changed.
The ways the bills [that were introduced in 2010] were structured made it impossible to fix through amendments. And both the House and Senate bills would have severely limited innovation, including green innovation, he said.
There are some deficiencies of TSCA that need to be fixed, but 'the ready, aim, fire approach' which is how Rosenberg described the bills of 2010 is never going to be effective, he said.
NGOs often suggest that TSCA is a failure because only six chemicals have been ever banned under Section 6 of the law in 35 years. But Rosenberg says that is using the wrong metric to measure TSCA's effectiveness.
TSCA has made the safety of chemicals a design criterion, especially in formulated products, he said. He said many ACI members have product stewardship groups tasked with the obligation of making sure the products won't cause harm or injury. The fact that you have so few chemicals regulated is a sign that it is working, Rosenberg said.
That view is echoed by former EPA official Charles Auer, who now heads his own consulting firm, Charles Auer & Associates LLC.
The current approach for new chemicals has worked well, said Auer, retired director of the EPA Office of Pollution, Prevention and Topics. It has yet to be shown that the new chemical program has failed or needs to be changed. New chemicals, in general, are safer and greener than their counterparts.
Some of the other issues where there is disagreement when it comes to TSCA reform are:
* How to improve the database of hazards and exposures of chemicals.
* What should qualify as confidential business information.
* How much testing should be required.
* How to evaluate the cumulative effect of exposure from various chemicals.
* What constitutes reasonable risk, or whether companies should show there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from a chemical.
* Whether to use safety-based standards.
* How to update an inventory of chemicals to delete those in limited use or no longer in use.
How we bridge these gaps is the challenge we face, said Auer.
But, above all, EPA must prioritize and TSCA reforms must take into account how to maximize the resources of both the EPA and chemical companies.
If there is excess risk related to the exposures associated with a product, then EPA should have the authority to restrict that use. But priorities need to be set and we need to start with chemicals of concern, Rosenberg said.
He also believes reform needs to be practical.
EPA's focus should be on avoiding harm to human health, but without placing excessive costs on manufacturers or creating an unmanageable workload for itself, according to Rosenberg.
Mark Duvall, head of the TSCA practice at Beveridge & Diamond PC, agreed. We need to have a practical way to solve problems. A new safety standard may be needed, but not one approaching zero risk.
TSCA reform must accommodate the realities of the marketplace, added Rosenberg. There are tens of thousands of new products, and millions of products and packaging changes a year. High upfront costs will leave many innovations on the shelf. Any TSCA reform must continue to encourage innovation and protect the competitiveness of U.S. industry.