Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

Is this EPA Serious about Chemical Regulation?

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the agency or sought other duties rather than push paper and create databases full of industry studies they knew to be outdated, unreliable or just plain bogus.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.

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4 Responses to “Is this EPA Serious about Chemical Regulation?”

  1. Shannon says:

    There needs to be more chemical testing. Not all chemicals threaten human health.


  2. Yes we need more testing, but the trick is figuring out which chemicals need to be tested. We would argue that the place to start is with chemicals found in people, particularly babies. From there we can focus testing resources on compounds where we already have an indication of hazard or on those that are used in a way that would expose people, but that for some reason are not detected during biomonitoring.


  3. Ben says:

    I saw an interview with Lisa Jackson where she seemed to have positive things to say about current environmental issues and regarding research and development. Perhaps, with her guidance, we can see a reform in the EPA’s approach to such subjects?

  4. Lydia says:

    I agree with Richard – focused, human-relevant testing is essential to actually addressing the concerns of dangerous chemicals. But we’ll never get there with the toxicity testing methods we have now. Language regarding improved testing methods needs to be included in the KSCA, so that we can continue to move forward in effective chemical regulation. The National Research Council already has a reachable vision for human-relevant, non-animal chemical testing, outlined in their report “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and Strategy.” We need to support them in this vision by including the modernization of chemical testing methods in legislation. Imperfectly tested chemicals are just as dangerous as those untested – improvements to these tests will ensure the enhanced safety of all families.