The federal program to “assess and manage” industrial chemicals polluting the environment has never done either. Instead of ChAMP (for Chemical Assessment and Management Program, Orwellian Newspeak if we ever heard it), it should have been named KERCHING — for the millions of dollars the chemical industry reaped while escaping effective regulation.
Last week, Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, signaled she will likely shelve ChAMP, set up by the regulation-averse Bush administration to meet the letter, if not the spirit, of U.S. obligations under a 2007 anti-pollution agreement with Canada and Mexico.
That’s bad news for the chemical industry, which stood to gain measurably (ker-ching!) as long as the federal government’s toxic chemical program was strictly voluntary. Under that scheme, chemical manufacturers volunteered minimal, often poor-quality data and were under virtually zero pressure to do better.
Since 1989, when EPA failed to ban asbestos, industry has enjoyed a 20–year holiday. Lobbyists and rental scientists have marshaled a parade of voluntary make-work programs devised, as an industry document makes clear, to “avert restrictive regulatory actions and legislative initiatives” and avoid “burdensome changes to TSCA.”
KERCHING is the latest and most audacious of industry-government collaborations. While previous voluntary “challenges” catalogued mostly insignificant data, ChAMP purported to rank risks based on the same inadequate information.
To her credit, Jackson quickly realized that ChAMP was just a punch-drunk palooka taking a dive for the chemical lobby.
For twenty years, the agency’s toxic program has burned through tens of millions of dollars and thousands of years of staff time with precious little benefit for the public health. Many dedicated EPA staffers left the agency or sought other duties rather than push paper and create databases full of industry studies they knew to be outdated, unreliable or just plain bogus.
The most successful, the High Production Volume Chemical Challenge yielded complete sets of screening studies on just 900 out of 2,750 chemicals in 12 years. We still do not know if most of these 900 are a threat to human health.
What does Jackson have in mind now?
We hope it’s the sensible and straight-forward idea of focusing on a very short list of priority chemicals already strongly suspected of causing harm.
Burying ChAMP is a great first step in reforming the nation’s toxic chemical safety system.