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July 29 — Chemicals companies on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border hope to see progress on joint assessments of chemical substances during the next 12 months, regardless of the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.
Work on closer cooperation between the U.S. and Canadian governments on risk assessments of chemicals has been slower than planned, but should lead to concrete results during the coming year, Gordon Lloyd, vice president of technical affairs with the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, said July 28.
The initiative under the bilateral Regulatory Cooperation Council already has weathered a change of government in Canada and is expected to survive the upcoming U.S. presidential election, Lloyd told Bloomberg BNA.
“There does seem to be a lot of momentum behind it,” he said. “It has huge potential, and there's a lot of effort being put into it by both governments.”
The U.S. chemicals sector also supports the effort to align assessments and believes the U.S. government is committed to the partnership with Canada through the Regulatory Cooperation Council, Christina Franz, senior director of regulatory and technical affairs with the American Chemistry Council, said July 29.
“We strongly support that commitment and cooperation between the U.S. and Canada, and will send that message to the new administration, regardless of who wins the presidential election,” Franz told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.
Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment and Climate Change Canada have put in place an approach to align regulatory requirements and minimize unnecessary differences in how chemicals are assessed in each country, Lloyd told Bloomberg BNA.
“That's exactly how industry has looked at this from the start,” he said. “We'd ultimately like to see, in certain circumstances, if one can accept the other's risk assessment work. That's our long-term wish.”
The process isn't “hugely fast.” but the work to date has led to closer relationships between officials in the two countries, which could be at least as important as any formal regulatory alignment that eventually happens, he said.
Lloyd said he particularly hopes the working group can help better align chemicals inventories in the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. inventory currently has about 80,000 chemicals, while Canada's has only about 24,000, and making them more consistent would make alignment easier, he said.
It would also be good if the two countries could agree on the issue of workplace exposure to chemicals, as the U.S. current takes that into account in its risk assessments but Canada doesn't because that is considered a provincial responsibility, he said.
In addition, industry would like government officials to find a way to safely share confidential business information, he said.
Industry was responding to a July 28 webinar hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment and Climate Change Canada on a recently released progress report on the regulatory cooperation process.
No new work is being considered as officials from both countries continue to work on the initial items assigned to the Regulatory Cooperation Council's technical working group on chemicals management, Greg Carreau, executive director of Environment and Climate Change Canada's Program Development and Engagement Division, told webinar participants.
“We still have a lot on our plate to finish,” Carreau said.
The focus during the next 12 months will be on completing the working group's initial work plan and reviewing a “parking lot” of future areas of cooperation, he said. More details on future work will be released in the next month or so, consultations will be held in fall 2016 on the future items and the next formal update on the overall work plan will be published in June 2017, he said.
Issues that have been “parked” for future consideration include prioritizing substances and risk assessment, data sharing, aligning chemical inventories, and communicating requirements to the chemicals supply chain.
Tala Henry, director of the Risk Assessment Division in EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, said the group's work on comparing how each country does risk assessments and requires industry to report new uses of chemicals—Canada's significant new activity notices (SNACs) and the EPA's significant new use rules (SNURs)—has uncovered many similarities.
There is clearly room to work together, particularly when assessing the same substances, Henry said in the webinar. That information will be used to complete, by the end of 2017, an assessment collaboration framework that will help better align the two countries' regulatory processes, she said.
Henry said pending amendments to the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act won't be a setback for the joint efforts. The amendments would change how EPA sets priorities and conducts risk assessments, but don't “vastly change” the assessment process, she said.
Sue Fraser, a program engineer with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said one of the working group's goals is to allow industry to provide “parallel” notification to both jurisdictions on new chemicals. That would lead to joint discussion of the substances and potentially aligned notification requirements, Fraser said in the webinar.
Officials have identified some new substances as candidates for joint assessment and are considering whether some existing substances could be jointly reviewed, she added. The working group hopes to finalize by early 2017 its recommendations on better aligning new activity notifications, she said.
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