For the past several years, industry's annual conference on global chemical regulation has focused on development of the European Union's legislation on the registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals (REACH). With the completion of REACH in December 2006, speakers at this year's GlobalChem conference shifted attention to how the new EU regime—as well as efforts to regulate chemicals in Canada and by individual states—might affect federal regulation of chemicals in the U.S.
The primary U.S. chemical regulation statute, the Toxic Substances Control Act, just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Unlike most other federal environmental statutes, it has never been reauthorized by Congress. Now, however, pressure is beginning to build for a possible rewrite of TSCA, speakers told the conference, which was held in Baltimore on March 8–9.
Robert Sussman, a partner at the law firm Latham & Watkins, said the political shift of November 2006 that put Democrats in control of Congress is likely to have important implications for TSCA and the Environmental Protection Agency's chemical control program. Despite congressional interest in revising TSCA, significant changes to that law are unlikely in the next two years, said Sussman, who was second-in-command at EPA during the Clinton Administration. This is because the slim majority of the Democrats in the Senate will make congressional passage of such legislation difficult, he said.
Jack N. Gerard, president of the American Chemistry Council, said interest in tightening controls on chemicals goes beyond lawmakers on Capitol Hill. State legislatures considered some 78 proposals similar to REACH in 2006, he said, predicting that the number of these bills would likely double this year. ACC views REACH as unworkable, expensive, and detrimental to industry innovation.
Sussman pointed out that the current federal chemical regulatory system under TSCA is based on risk, not on precaution or pressure from activist groups. But TSCA could be undermined by state laws and by local actions such as San Francisco's recent ban on child care articles and toys containing bisphenol A and some phthalates, he said. Some marketplace initiatives—such as Wal-Mart's new "Preferred Chemical Principles"—through which retailers refuse to carry or use products containing certain substances also can lessen the importance of TSCA, he added.
Implementation of REACH is not the only action abroad creating pressure for an overhaul of the U.S. chemical regulation system. Also contributing, Sussman said, is Canada's new program to tighten restrictions on and uses of chemicals that are harmful to human health and the environment.
Canada's government announced this $300 million initiative in December 2006 (C&EN, Dec. 18, 2006, page 13). This is an outgrowth of Environment Canada's and Health Canada's systematic review, mandated by law, of all commercial chemicals on its domestic market.
Mary Ellen Perkin, acting chief of Environment Canada's risk management programs, discussed her country's chemicals management plan. Of the 23,000 substances on the Canadian market, 4,300 were selected for further review due to human exposure concerns or because the chemicals are persistent, bioaccumulative, or inherently toxic. Of these 4,300 substances, Canada selected approximately 470 as high-priority chemicals—substances potentially harmful to human health or the environment—that are getting the government's attention first under the December initiative, she said.
Of these high-priority substances, 45 chemicals are already undergoing risk assessment or are subject to regulation, and 75 are limited to petroleum process streams, Perkin said. Approximately 150 are substances no longer used in Canada and will have to undergo government review if a company wants to reintroduce them to the domestic market, she explained.
The Canadian government is challenging industry to provide information on how they are managing the remaining roughly 200 high-priority chemicals, Perkin said. In February, the government began requiring Canadian companies to fill out surveys on these substances. The data include manufacture, import, and use quantities; customer lists; and information about releases of the compounds.
Perkin urged U.S. chemical manufacturers to provide information that their Canadian customers need to fill out the surveys. In addition, U.S. chemical producers are welcome to fill out voluntary questionnaires about the high-priority substances, she said.
More information on the surveys and questionnaires is available at www.chemicalsubstanceschimiques.gc.ca/challenge- defi/index_e.html.