Vehicle, Furniture Makers Urged to Increase Role in Toxics Law

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By Pat Rizzuto

Vehicle, furniture and other product makers should increase their participation in the EPA’s implementation of the amended Toxic Substances Control Act lest chemicals they need become unavailable to them, attorneys told Bloomberg BNA in recent interviews.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Inc. and the Sustainable Furnishings Council are among the manufacturing trade associations already helping members prepare for the EPA’s anticipated increased oversight over chemicals, according to officials from both groups.

More than 20,000 parts are used in the global supply chain that produces the diverse models, styles and types of cars customers expect, Wade Newton, communications director for the automobile manufacturers alliance, told Bloomberg BNA.

It may take 10,000-15,000 chemicals to make these parts, various industry representatives have said.

Michael Walls, an attorney and vice president of regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council, said these chemicals perform essential functions including making cars stronger, lighter and more fuel efficient; reducing fire risks; and lubricating moving parts.

Use, Exposure Data Vital: EPA

“Companies that need chemicals to make products can play a valuable role as TSCA is implemented,” Jeffery Morris, director of the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, which oversees the chemicals law, told Bloomberg BNA.

For example, the exposure information related to the conditions of a chemical’s use will be critical to the agency’s chemical risk evaluations, he said.

A core reason Congress overhauled the Toxic Substances Control Act, the U.S.’ primary commercial chemicals law, was to give the EPA a mandate to evaluate chemicals in commerce. The amended law also gave the agency new authorities to obtain toxicity, exposure and other data it would need to evaluate chemical risks.

Companies that use chemicals to make auto parts, paints and other products may have information about how those chemicals are used in their workplaces, Morris told Bloomberg BNA.

That new information could allow the EPA to depart from assumptions it would typically make about uses and exposures, he said.

The computer models the agency uses to evaluate chemicals contain a number of assumptions. Those assumptions, or “defaults,” vary depending on the characteristics of the type of exposure being modeled (airborne, dermal, ingestion), the volatility or other characteristics of the chemical being analyzed, the type of chemical operation the EPA is analyzing, and other factors.

As just one example relevant to auto manufacturers, the agency’s 2013 Chemical Screening Tool for Exposures and Environmental Releases (ChemSTEER) model presumed—absent specific data—that 17 workers could breathe in a chemical or have it deposited on their skin when new vehicles are spray coated.

Basic, Critical Chemical Information

Manufacturers of finished goods should know two types of information, said Mark Duvall, a principal with the Washington office of Beveridge & Diamond, P.C.

First they should know whether chemicals they need to make their goods are being reviewed by the agency, he said.

Second they should know what chemical characteristics could trigger an agency review, he said.

The agency already announced it is evaluating the risks of 1, 4 dioxane, 1-bromopropane, asbestos, carbon tetrachloride, the cyclic aliphatic bromide cluster of flame retardants called HBCD, methylene chloride, n-methylpyrolidone, pigment violet 29, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene.

It also is assessing exposures to another five chemicals—decabromodiphenyl ether, hexachlorobutadiene, pentachlorothio-phenol, tris (4-isopropylphenyl) phosphate, and 2,4,6-tris(tert-butyl)phenol— through a fast-track process the law established for certain chemicals that persist in the environment, build up in the food chain, and are toxic.

Down the road chemicals that will get onto EPA’s radar include ones that are carcinogenic, rank high in their potential to persist, bioaccumulate and be toxic, or have been flagged in the European Union, Duvall said.

Long-Term Strategy Urged

It will take some years for the EPA to go through the procedures it has proposed and add additional chemicals to those it is evaluating, Duvall said.

But the agency’s decision that a chemical is a high-priority substance needing assessment could eventually lead to restrictions, he said. Once that process has been launched it may be hard to derail, Duvall said.

Developing a long-term strategy early on will be key to success, he said.

“Instead of waiting for EPA to select a chemical, figure out which ones may raise concerns and gather exposure data that could alleviate those concerns,” Duvall said.

Product Stewardship

Walls urged product manufacturers to review and comment on the three “framework” rules the EPA has proposed to implement the chemicals law.

Those rules lay out the agency’s plans to update the list of chemicals in commerce, decide which chemicals should have their risks evaluated, and conduct risk evaluations.

Other regulations the agency has been proposing since TSCA was amended could also provide insight into how the agency is interpreting the law, he said.

Lynn Bergeson, managing partner of the Washington, D.C., office of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., said some manufacturers, such as companies that purchase nanoscale chemicals to make sports equipment, aren’t well positioned to actively participate in EPA’s rulemakings.

Nevertheless responsible product manufacturers will want to know whether their products pose risks regardless of regulatory initiatives under way due to the TSCA amendments, she told Bloomberg BNA.

Knowing how the EPA interprets the chemicals law can help, Bergeson said.

For example, knowing the information and approaches the agency will use to assess risks can help a company know what data may be useful to show that the business’s use of a chemical does not pose an unreasonable risk, she said.

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

The home furnishing manufacturers, retailers and designers that make up the Sustainable Furnishings Council want to make, sell and design healthy products, and they hope the amended chemicals law will help reduce harmful chemicals, Susan Inglis, the council’s executive director, told Bloomberg BNA.

Since the coalition was formed in 2006 it has sometimes been surprising to gauge the number of knowledge gaps, said Steve Freeman, the council’s president.

It’s common for companies in a supply chain to presume someone else is following all the rules and regulations for the compounds they use, Freeman said.

He helps council members work toward their sustainability goals, and he works with vendors at Room & Board, a furniture and accessories retailer. Sometimes a company realizes another part of its supply chain is using a chemical that was banned years ago or is using a chemical unsafely, he said.

“It’s unbelievable,” but reflects the fragmented nature of a supply chain that includes many small family businesses that make furniture, Freeman said.

Plus, the chemical of concern may not be on the materials a particular company thinks about when it purchases them to make its furniture, he said. The chemical may be in glues, textile coatings or other elements of the final product, Freeman said.

Awareness Initiatives

The council wants to help members become more aware of the chemicals in their supply chain, Inglis said.

On March 16 the furnishings council will fully launch a “What’s it made of?” initiative that already is briefly described on its website, she said.

The idea is simple, she said. The council is urging members to ask suppliers about the chemicals in the materials they buy.

The initial focus is chemicals such as flame retardants, fluorinated stain treatments, antimicrobials, vinyls, and volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde, she said.

If the supplier doesn’t know, the purchaser is urged to ask the supplier to find out, Inglis said.

Automobile manufacturers already have a good idea of what chemicals could be in the materials they purchase, Newton, from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told Bloomberg BNA by e-mail.

The alliance is working with its members to determine whether their supply chains use the 15 chemicals the EPA already is examining, he said.

Down the line, if or when needed, it plans to gather exposure data for submission to the EPA, Newton said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington, D.C., at prizzuto@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The EPA's 2013 ChemSTEER model users guide is available at http://src.bna.com/l6C.

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