EPA Begins Testing High-Use Chemicals for Toxic Effects

EPA Begins Testing High-Use Chemicals for Toxic Effects

In what may be a sign of broader chemical reform coming out of Washington soon, the EPA this month announced that it would begin testing some of the most widely used chemicals for toxic and environmental effects.

A rule issued in early January will require manufacturers of 19 high production volume (HPV) chemicals to test those chemicals and submit the results to the EPA.

The chemicals in question are all in heavy use in the U.S.: HPV chemicals are those that are imported or produced in quantities of greater than 1 million pounds per year. The chemicals are also used in a range of different applications, from personal-care products to blasting and demolition agents.

"This chemical data reporting will provide EPA with critical information to better evaluate any potential risks from these chemicals that are being produced in large quantities in this country," Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement announcing the rule. "Having this information is essential to improve chemical safety and protect the health of the American people and the environment."

The new HPV rule follows on an HPV Challenge that the EPA issued in 1998 to gather health and environmental data on a voluntary basis from manufacturers; data for the 19 chemicals in question were never submitted.

The EPA did not offer an interview on the subject, directing me instead to the HPV overview page on the EPA website.

But over at EDF's blog, Richard Denison has a clear assessment of just what this new rule will acheive -- and where it falls short:

[T]his rule reveals why it is actually a perfect poster child for what’s wrong with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).


For starters, consider that it took EPA two and a half years to move the rule from the proposed stage to finalization. And that doesn’t count the several preceding years EPA had to spend developing information sufficient to make the findings it has to make to justify proposing a test rule.

Then consider that the rule addresses only 19 of the many hundreds of HPV chemicals on the market today for which even the most basic, “screening level” hazard data are not publicly available.

[Since this process started,] many hundreds of additional chemicals not included in the original program have reached HPV levels – but without any effective commitment by their makers to develop the base set of hazard data.

All told, Denison writes, it's taken the EPA "more than a decade to be able to impose even minimal testing requirements on just 30 of the many hundreds of HPV chemicals on the market today for which even basic health and environmental data are not publicly available."

Denison makes many more good points about the HPV challenge, as well as what's wrong with chemicals policy in the U.S., in his original blog post. It's well worth a read.

Photo CC-licensed by skycaptaintwo.