The Environmental Protection Agency is taking a different approach for assessing the hazards of new chemicals.
Industry leaders say that the current safety review process is too slow and cumbersome. The EPA hopes to alleviate some of the difficulties that chemical manufacturers must go through prior to getting approval to produce new chemicals.
The EPA has already overhauled its process for determining whether new chemicals pose any threats to public health or the environment. The review process looks at everything, from household cleaners to industrial products.
One change is that the agency will no longer require chemical manufacturers to sign consent orders for new, potentially hazardous chemicals. Consent orders are legal agreements that restrict the use of chemicals to certain, specified conditions and applications.
Consent orders would still be required if the EPA believes that the intended use of the new chemical could pose a risk to human health or the environment.
But consent orders only apply to a single manufacturer. So if the EPA wants to restrict the broad use of a chemical, they have to issue what is known as a “significant new-use rule.”
Jeff Morris, director of the EPA’s toxics program, think that the elimination of consent orders would be “more efficient.” Morris continues to explain that, “It’s our belief that they could be equally protective but eliminate this one step.”
Critics argue that manufacturers might get approval for a new chemical without getting a in-depth review of the potential ramifications if it is used for a different purpose. These could be vital steps in the chemical approval process.
Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund, says that this new method contradicts a 2016 law which requires the EPA to assess the broad use of chemicals before granting approval. One of the reasons this law was put into place, is because over time, manufacturers often find different uses for hazardous chemicals.
“The EPA is explicitly disavowing and downplaying a tool that’s really been a cornerstone of new chemical regulation,” said Bob Sussman, a former EPA attorney who represented environmental and public health advocates. “We believe EPA is taking a big step backward in the protection of health and the environment without an offsetting benefit.”
The industry has been urging government officials to speed up their review process. Lobbyist have been working hard to get these new rules into effect. According to the American Chemistry Council, the industry’s largest trade association, chemical manufacturers are “burdened by the delay of waiting for EPA to draft the orders, negotiating them with EPA, and then waiting for EPA to issue the orders.”
It appears that their voices have been heard.
“This EPA has worked very well with industry,” said Robert Helminiak, vice president of legal and government relations for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates. “They really have certainly listened to what the specialty chemical industry has to say.”
Public health experts and other concerned individuals continue to warn us about the negative ramifications of streamlining the approvals process program. Denison is among them. He warns the EPA of giving companies the “green light” too early. Because even if the original manufacturer sticks to the intended use of that new chemical, there’s no saying what other parties might do with it once it’s on the market.The EPA states that it has yet to make a determination on how long manufacturers will have to wait before bringing their new chemicals to market. “This is an area that we are [still] discussing,” Morris said.