Kids Safe Chemical Act Empowers EPA to Require Chemical Testing

WASHINGTON, DC, July 18, 2005 (ENS) - A new government report outlining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) inability to protect humans and the environment from hazardous chemicals due to legal hurdles has given lawmakers the ammunition they need to empower the agency.

U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, held a news conference Wednesday to announce the Child, Worker and Consumer Safe Chemicals Act, coauthored with Vermont Independent Senator Jim Jeffords. The measure would require chemical manufacturers to provide health and safety information on chemicals used in consumer products like baby bottles and food wrapping instead of presuming a substance is safe until proven dangerous.

"Every day, Americans use household products that contain hundreds of chemicals," said Senator Lautenberg. "Most people assume that those chemicals have been proven safe for their families and children. Unfortunately, that assumption is wrong."

"We have laws to make sure that pesticides and medicines are safe - but we fail to require similar analysis for the chemicals used in baby bottles, water bottles, food packages and thousands of other products," said Lautenberg. This is inexcusable."


Child drinks from a plastic bottle. The chemicals that make up the bottle may not have been tested for safety. (Photo credit unknown)
Senator Jeffords said, "Study after study has shown we have dozens, if not hundreds, of synthetic chemicals in our bodies, yet we have very little information about how they impact our health. The Kids Safe Chemical Act will for the first time require that the chemicals our children come in contact with each day are properly tested and reviewed. It is time to hold the chemicals in our consumer goods and household products to a higher standard, and fully understand their effect on our bodies."

Written by John Stephenson, director of natural resources and environment with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the new report reviews the EPA’s efforts to control the risks of new chemicals not yet in commerce, assess the risks of existing chemicals used in commerce, and publicly disclose information provided by chemical companies under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Stephenson recommends that the agency needs the authority to require chemical companies to conduct testing, and the authority to see the confidential business information that chemical companies provide to states and foreign governments.

The report recommends that Congress consider providing the EPA with additional authorities under the Toxic Substances Control Act to improve its ability to assess chemical risks.

Today, chemical companies are not required by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to test new chemicals before they are submitted for the EPA’s review, and companies generally do not voluntarily perform such testing.

Tens of thousands of chemicals are currently in commercial use in the United States and, on average, over 700 new chemicals are introduced into commerce each year, but the EPA does not routinely assess the risks of all existing chemicals.

Because chemical companies claim that information about their chemicals is confidential business information, the agency "faces challenges in obtaining the information necessary" to assess chemical risks to the public, the GAO report states.

While the EPA has the authority to evaluate the appropriateness of these confidentiality claims, the agency says it lacks the resources to challenge large numbers of claims.

Yet state environmental agencies are interested in obtaining confidential business information for use in developing contingency plans to alert emergency response personnel of the presence of highly toxic substances at manufacturing facilities.


Which of these chemicals is safe? (Photo credit unknown)
The Toxic Substances Control Act does not facilitate the EPA’s review process because it places the costly and time consuming burden of obtaining data on the EPA instead of on the chemical companies.

The failure of EPA in its efforts to protect public health is a result of statutory restrictions imposed by the Toxic Substances Control Act, Lautenberg said.

This law's procedural requirements are so daunting, he said, that, in 29 years, only five toxic substances in existence when the law passed, have been regulated by the EPA.

Given limited test data, the EPA predicts the toxicity of new chemicals by using models that compare the new chemicals with chemicals of similar molecular structures that have previously been tested.

But, the GAO found, the use of the models does not ensure that chemicals’ risks are fully assessed before they enter commerce because the models are not always accurate in predicting chemical properties and toxicity, especially in connection with general health effects.

Given the lack of test data and health and safety information available to the agency, the EPA believes the models are generally useful as screening tools for identifying potentially harmful chemicals. Together with other information, such as the anticipated potential uses and exposures of the new chemicals, the models provide a reasonable basis for reviewing new chemicals, the EPA said.

Still, the agency recognizes that obtaining additional information would improve the predictive capabilities of its models.

The Kids Safe Chemicals Act of 2005 would require manufacturers to provide health and safety information prior to distributing a chemical in consumer products, instead of presuming a substance is safe until proven dangerous.

It would reduce our toxic ignorance by providing hazard and exposure information to EPA and the public.

food wrap

Senator Frank Lautenberg worries that plastic food wrap may not be safe. (Photo credit unknown)
The bill would require the EPA to determine the safety of 300 chemicals within the next five years. By 2020, all chemicals distributed in commerce would need to meet the safety standard.

Five other Democratic Senators are cosponsors of the legislation - John Kerry and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Barbara Boxer of California, Hillary Clinton of New York, and Jon Corzine of New Jersey.

Partly because of a lack of information on existing chemicals, EPA, in partnership with industry and environmental groups, initiated the High Production Volume (HPV) Challenge Program in 1998, under which chemical companies began voluntarily providing information on the basic properties of chemicals produced in large amounts. But this program may not be effective.

"It is unclear," Stephanson wrote, "whether the program will produce sufficient information for EPA to determine chemicals’ risks to human health and the environment. EPA has limited ability to publicly share the information it receives from chemical companies under TSCA.

The GAO recommends three actions for Congress to take to improve EPA’s ability to assess the health and environmental risks of chemicals.

First, provide explicit authority for EPA to enter into enforceable consent agreements under which chemical companies are required to conduct testing;

Next, the EPA needs the authority to require chemical substance manufacturers and processors to develop test data based on production volume.

And finally, the EPA needs the authority to obtain the confidential business information that chemical companies provide to the states and foreign governments, subject to procedures to protect the information from unauthorized disclosures.

To improve EPA’s management of its chemical review program, the GAO recommends that the EPA Administrator develop and implement methods for using information collected through the HPV Challenge Program to prioritize chemicals for further review and to identify and obtain additional information needed to assess their risks.

Stephanson reccommends a new rule requiring chemical companies to submit to EPA copies of any health and safety studies, and other information on the environmental and health effects of chemicals, that they submit to foreign governments on chemicals that the companies manufacture or process in, or import to, the United States.

The EPA should develop a strategy for improving and validating, for regulatory purposes, the models used to assess and predict the risks of chemicals and to inform regulatory decisions on the production, use, and disposal of the chemicals.


Insulation being installed in the Zion National Park Visitors Center, Springdale, Utah. (Photo Paul Torcellini courtesy NREL)
And finally, Stephanson recommends that companies should be requred to reassert claims of confidentiality submitted to EPA within a certain time period after the information is initially claimed as confidential.

The EPA did not disagree with the GAO report’s findings and recommendations, but offered two substantive comments.

In a letter to Stephenson, Susan Hazen, EPA principal deputy assistant administrator, commented that, while a rule requiring chemical manufacturers share with the EPA what they disclose to foreign governments may bring useful information, "other targeted approaches for collecting information which are directed at EPA’s domestic priorities, rather than foreign government mandates, may be more prudent."

Stephenson responds that, "We believe that having access to the information submitted to foreign governments would provide EPA with an important source of information that would be useful for assessing the risks of existing chemicals and improving the models that EPA uses to assess new chemicals.

"EPA could tailor this rule more narrowly, however, if it saw good reason to do so, such as to avoid duplication of information it already possesses," Stephenson wrote.

Hazen said the EPA does not need the Toxic Substances Control Act changed to explicitly recognize enforceable consent agreements, because she believes that "there is currently strong legal authority for these agreements."

Stephenson answers that the Toxic Substances Control Act "does not explicitly authorize EPA to enter into these agreements and a court could find that EPA lacked discretion to require testing other than through promulgation of a test rule."