Conventional Chemical Risk Management Policies

The 1970s changed all of this as the emergence of the new environmental movement spurred national governments to enact sweeping new chemical pollution, waste, and product laws. The U.S. Congress enacted the Clean Air Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in a brief six-year period in the early 1970s. Similar laws were passed in Japan and many European countries during this same period. Dealing with chemical production wastes and pollutants and dangerous chemical products, all of these laws had an immediate effect on the chemical industry (see Desai, 2002, for brief case studies from different industrialized countries).

However, none of these statutes were so directly focused on the chemical industry as the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in the United States and the Sixth Amendment to the Dangerous Substances Directive enacted by the European Parliament in 1979. These statutes did not focus on the industry's wastes, pollution or occupational exposures as much as on the intrinsic hazards - the toxicity, chemical stability, and bioavailability - of the industry's chemical products as they were used in commerce. These laws were intended to provide government agencies with the authority to collect relevant health and safety data on chemical products, require testing where data were missing, and condition and restrict the use of chemical substances so as to reduce "unreasonable risks" to the public and environment.

These statutes comprised the primary government policies shaping chemical management practices. Both of these laws established a politically defined distinction between those chemicals currently on the market and the chemical industry's proposed new chemicals. Those substances manufactured and used in industrial production prior to 1980 (so-called "existing chemicals") were largely assumed to be safe unless some incident or scientific study proved otherwise. It was only new chemicals coming on to the market after 1980 that were subject to testing and government review. Both statutes provided government agencies with authorities to restrict the use of dangerous substances that posed health and environmental risks and to phase out the worst of them.

Over two decades of experience with these chemical management policies has revealed their weaknesses. While both statutes have had some success in ensuring safety reviews of new chemicals, their impact in terms of generating information on the toxicity of existing chemicals and restricting those considered of highest risk has been limited. While firms were expected to understand the risks associated with their existing chemicals and report on any concerning outcomes, industry has been slow to submit data and quick to cloak it under secretive confidential business information protections. In the United States, legal interpretations of TSCA have hampered risk management initiatives, often requiring long and expensive quantitative risk assessments to justify actions. For many years, little was done by the government to encourage firms to do testing and there was little enforcement of the provisions that required firms to report results from new testing.

Driven by public interest pressure, the U.S. EPA in 1998 inventoried the testing data available on the highest production volume (one million pounds or greater manufactured or imported per year) chemicals in commerce. The agency found that 97 percent of the chemicals considered were missing at least one of six basic toxicity screening tests and some 43 percent had virtually no human health or environmental screening data. Taking advantage of these reports, the U.S. EPA entered into a voluntary "challenge" with the American Chemistry Council and the nonprofit organization, Environmental Defense, to encourage the chemical industry to provide the basic screening data for some 2800 high production volume chemicals by 2005. This program has been modestly successful, with industry consortia "adopting" some 65 percent of the identified chemicals and, in 2002, beginning to submit "robust summaries" of the necessary data. The agency has been unclear about its plans for the remaining 35 percent of unadopted ("orphaned") chemicals, the 700 or more chemicals whose production has crossed the threshold of one million pounds since the original inventory, or the 6000 existing chemicals that are manufactured or used in annual quantities of 10,000 to 1,000,000 pounds (Dennison, 2004).

With so little scientific information on the risks of thousands of common industrial chemicals, many have continued to be used, even in large volumes and under conditions of significant human and environmental exposure, and only a relatively small number have received regulatory controls. Congressional hearings in 1983, 1988, and 1994 have highlighted the inadequacies of the U.S. EPA's existing chemicals program. In 1994 a report from the federal Government Accounting Office found that the U.S. EPA had placed regulatory restrictions on only five chemicals under its authority to prohibit the use of chemicals that "present or will present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment." In overview, one recent administrator of the office overseeing TSCA concluded, "It is fair to state that the results [of TSCA] have come nowhere close to ... the original Congressional intent ... Although Congress has shown little interest in doing so, there are many examples of sections that need to be reformed and strengthened" (Goldman, 2002).

0 0

Post a comment