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EPA Hopes ‘Work Plan’ Assessments Will Generate Data for More Chemicals

Monday, April 22, 2013
By Pat Rizzuto

The Environmental Protection Agency's chemicals office will use the risk assessments it is developing for an initial group of 14 chemicals to evaluate, reduce, and manage risks in these and similar compounds that may already be in commerce or which companies would like to make or import, a senior chemicals official said April 18.

Jeff Morris, deputy director of EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), briefed the agency's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee about the office's efforts to enhance its management of chemicals in commerce, an initiative announced in 2009 (33 CRR 970, 10/5/09).

EPA has launched risk assessments on specific uses of 14 chemicals. The 14 are among a larger group of 83 “work plan” chemicals the agency announced in March 2012 it would gradually evaluate, Morris said (36 CRR 269, 3/5/12).

As it selected the 83 compounds, EPA found information suggesting about 240 more chemicals might pose a high risk, but it did not have enough data to assess their risks, Morris said.

The conundrum of having identified chemicals that may pose a risk coupled with the inability to require manufacturers to provide data needed to determine whether the compounds actually pose a health or environmental risk “points out a gap in our information database about chemicals” and a challenge posed by the limited authorities the agency has under the Toxic Substances Control Act, Morris said.

Similarly Structured Compounds

OPPT anticipates, however, that some of the information it will collect through the risk assessments will prove applicable to additional chemicals with similar molecular structures, Morris said.

In 2012, EPA began to assess the risks of seven chemicals. Then in March 2013, OPPT announced it would begin assessing the risks of another seven chemicals, including four flame retardants (37 CRR 370, 4/1/13).

“Clustered” around the identified flame retardants are other chemicals that also can be used to slow down fires but which OPPT has enough data about to have some health or environmental concerns, he said.

OPPT hopes some of the information it will obtain through the assessments of the four flame retardants will help the agency analyze the other compounds, Morris said.

New Chemicals

Similarly, when the agency announces a chemical that is on the market poses a health or environmental concern, it frequently receives premanufacture notices (PMNs) from companies that would like to make or import a new chemical that may be slightly different from the existing one, Morris said.

OPPT hopes the data companies and other interested parties will provide due to the release of draft risk assessments will be helpful in analyzing the PMNs, he said. “Maybe, maybe not.”

OPPT's effort to flag chemicals of concern and assess their risks is already spurring conversations, Morris said.

A draft risk assessment of n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) the office released earlier this year found that solvent poses potential inhalation or dermal health concerns for some workers and consumers, he said (37 CRR 5, 1/7/13).

The agency has scarce exposure data, however, Morris said. EPA is working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, with the goal of making the information obtained as a result of the draft risk assessment as useful as possible not only to consumer uses of NMP but also to workplace exposures, he said.

OPPT hopes the conversations spurred by the draft risk assessments will lead to public pressure and innovations that will spur the design of and market for safer chemicals, Morris said.

If none of OPPT's efforts reduces the risks it may identify through this assessment effort, the agency will regulate chemical uses of concern, Morris said.

Advisers Urge Action

Pamela Shubat, who is a supervisor in the Minnesota Department of Health's Risk Assessment Unit and cochair of the children's health committee, voiced a perspective several other committee members said they shared.

“I thought there would be more regulation,” Shubat said. “Risk management is in your [EPA's] hands.”

Chemical risk information her office develops is used right away for permitting and other decisions made by water and other regulatory offices in Minnesota, Shubat said.

Morris said risk management is on the table but regulations take years to develop.

When other committee members said EPA should be able to act on the basis of hazard information combined with market use and other exposure information it can estimate, Morris said “putting forward a [regulatory] case based heavily on hazard and little exposure data has not proved successful.”

He referred to EPA's court-overturned efforts to ban asbestos. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the agency's attempt to ban asbestos in 1991 (Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA, 947 F.2d 1201, 33 ERC 1961 (5th Cir. 1991)).

By Pat Rizzuto