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By Pat Rizzuto
Businesses that make, use, sell, distribute or dispose of a host of chemical-containing products have a month to check out the EPA’s preliminary information about their use of 10 chemicals and correct that information if it’s outdated or flat out wrong.
States, health officials, unions, environmental health and other organizations have the same amount of time to provide the Environmental Protection Agency information they have about how people or the environment are exposed to the 10 chemicals. Information about groups of people that warrant particular attention because their exposures are higher than other groups or because of their stage of life, genetics or situation makes them more vulnerable to the chemicals than others also is welcomed by the agency.
The continued consumer, commercial and industrial uses of these 10 chemicals, which help lubricate machines so they keep running, protect the wires in electronic equipment so they keep working and provide many other services are being scrutinized.
The uses may be circumscribed. Such restrictions or bans could be needed to protect people from cancer, birth defects and other problems. Or, if the science used in the EPA’s risk assessments is flawed, the assessments could needlessly restrict chemical uses.
But, the clock is ticking. The EPA is seeking use and exposure information by March 15.
And the stakes are high. The 10 risk assessments the agency is preparing to carry out will set precedent. They are the first the EPA will conduct under the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, which amended the Toxic Substances Control Act last year. A primary reason lawmakers revised TSCA is they wanted the EPA to examine—and when necessary reduce through regulations—the risks of chemicals in commerce.
The 10 chemicals, primarily solvents, flame retardants and one dye, are:
The question of what uses should the EPA consider as it evaluates the 10 chemicals became paramount during a Feb. 14 meeting the agency held to discuss the scope of its risk evaluations.
Amended TSCA defines the “conditions of use” the EPA is to examine as “the intended, known, or reasonably foreseeable circumstances under which a chemical is manufactured, processed, distributed, disposed of, or used.”
In keeping with that broad definition, the EPA released on Feb. 10 preliminary information summaries it gathered on the ways each of the 10 chemicals is made, processed, distributed, used and disposed in the U.S.
The reports drew on information that companies, researchers and environmental organizations shared during meetings they’ve had with the agency; industry data submitted to the EPA for various reporting obligations such as Chemical Data Reporting rule submissions; state information and internet searches.
For example, the EPA searched Amazon’s website to determine what products consumers could purchase and combined that with a safety data sheet and other information about the concentrations of the 10 chemicals that might be in those products.
Those 10 summaries provide an unprecedented amount of information concerning hundreds of specific adhesives, brake cleaners, lubricants, paints and other products made with specific concentrations of chemicals.
It lists manufacturers of consumer products such as Utrecht Art Supplies and Winsor & Newton; and retailers such as Autozone Inc., W.W. Grainger Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.—in addition to Amazon—where products may be purchased.
Kathleen Roberts, who spoke on behalf of the N-Methylpyrrolidone Producers Group Inc., which consists of the BASF Corp., International Specialty Products and Lyondell Chemical Co., said the EPA’s current approach is “unworkable for industry and EPA.”
The manufacturers she works with are trying to get as much information as possible from their customers by March 15 to know how those customers are using the solvent. But they will not be able to provide details on every product, every use, and every distributor in that time, she said.
The law also gives the EPA “the liberty to scope risk evaluations in a manner that is selective, flexible, responsive, and cost-effective and will get the job done on time,” said Karyn Schmidt, senior director of chemical regulation, regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council, which represents major chemical producers. “We believe that’s what the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act intended.”
But, the EPA must define how it interprets terms such as “reasonably foreseen” chemical uses, Derek Swick, regulatory and scientific affairs manager for the American Petroleum Institute, said.
Uses that are inconsistent with a safety data sheet or label should not be considered, he said. Nor should accidents or unintended releases be considered, Swick said.
Off label uses must be considered, countered Lindsay McCormick from the Environmental Defense Fund.
Many studies show that people, including professionals, don’t read labels or don’t understand them, she said.
The risk evaluation must be comprehensive, including all uses, all exposures and all vulnerable populations, said Michael Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, which works to eliminate toxic chemicals.
“It is essential that EPA cast a broad net when looking at uses,” said Richard Denison, lead senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Council.
Workers should typically be considered a potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulation, he said.
Other at-risk groups identified by various environmental and public health organizations included men, whose chemical exposures could affect their offspring; tribes, infants, children and women of child-bearing age.
The use information the EPA is compiling will be integrated into the agency’s document describing the scope of each risk evaluation it will conduct for each of the 10 chemicals. Those scoping documents must be published by by June 19 under the amended chemicals law.
Tala Henry, director of the risk assessment division within the agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, described the scope during the Feb. 14 meeting. It includes three core parts, she said:
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