TSCA Reform Driven by Endocrine Disruption

(part of comment sent to editor of article in C&EN July 27, 2009)

EPA's new chemicals review PMN program has been very effective insofar as it encourages prescreening by companies during R&D before PMNs are submitted and modifies plans in response to EPA challenges to support commercial activity that will be acceptably safe.

[Endocrine disruption is the current panic of the day and has yet to be addressed by a verifiable standard test methodology. EPA is working toward a valid testing program (albeit slowly) and can easily work it into the PMN program on new chemicals once there is consensus on a scientific approach. ]

Where TSCA has been abysmally implemented is in the identification and control of significant risks presented by existing chemicals. I would argue it is a result of EPA's failure to take measured, prioritized steps to identify and manage the most serious risks. Instead, EPA continued to make unmanageable attempts to obtain and sift through massive amounts of data on as many chemicals as possible and to consider a total ban as the only control option. Perhaps ChAMP might have succeeded, but it has been abandoned as too narrow and tainted by the Bush legacy. The current administration and its newly empowered NGOs see EU's REACH as the model for TSCA "reform." Talk about over-REACHING. I think we will see implosion in Europe as EU governments and companies collapse from the pressure to collect, collate and act on millions of data elements.

While some streamlining of TSCA may be needed to ease EPA hurdles to managing existing chemicals, there is tremendous strength in the current language of the Act to assure reasoned decisions are made before seriously restricting commercial activity. It is ludicrous to think that there is some magical test set that will determine "safety" for all mankind and all creatures and plants for all time. Prohibiting commercial activity until such safety can be "proved" will cause more harm to the economic and social legs of sustainability than the environment will benefit. We need flexible standards of review and support for continuous improvement, not authorization for default bans at the tweet of every preliminary "finding" seen in a quick and dirty "study."

Green Chemistry - those magical "inherently safe" chemicals - will not be able to be developed and commercialized to substitute for all current commercial chemicals for a long time, if ever. In the meantime, let's focus on the full array of ways to properly manage chemical risks throughout their lifetime.

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