EPA halts its chemical review effort
23 June 2009
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reevaluating its existing chemicals assessment framework and has suspended its Chemical Assessment and Management Program. The initiative, known as 'ChAMP', aims to ensure the safety of existing chemicals by developing screening-level characterisations for the nearly 7,000 compounds produced or imported in the country at quantities of at least 25,000 pounds (11 tonnes) annually.
Specifically, EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances has halted development and posting of ChAMP 'risk-based prioritisations', which are intended to help the agency determine the need for follow-up data collection or management actions for certain chemicals based on their potential risks or hazards. While covering fewer substances than Europe's Reach chemicals regulation, EPA had argued that ChAMP's more targeted approach would lead to quicker action on substances of concern.
The EPA's decision to halt ChAMP was not entirely unexpected. The agency's administrator, Lisa Jackson, highlighted the need to strengthen EPA's chemical management programme as one of her priorities when she assumed the agency's helm in January. Nevertheless, industry groups are reeling because the Obama administration has made no official announcement, and details are scarce.
The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (Socma), based in Washington, DC, says some of its members are still working with EPA on exposure characterisations through ChAMP. The agency's latest action is creating confusion over how or whether to continue these activities already begun by industry, Socma states.
'We urge EPA to not delay the forward progress it has been making under ChAMP,' says Bill Allmond, Socma's vice president of government relations. 'We applaud the agency for wishing to strengthen its chemicals management programme, but we're concerned that, in order to do so, they're stopping it altogether.'
For its part, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and its member companies are also supporting ChAMP, arguing that it has enabled EPA to take positive steps to prioritise existing chemicals for health and safety assessments. 'ChAMP arose out of a regional commitment made by the governments of Mexico, Canada and the United States, and we are confident that any changes to ChAMP do not signal a reversal of the US government's commitment, but rather to further strengthen the programme,' states ACC, an industry trade association for US chemical companies, based in Arlington, Virginia, US.
The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), a Washington, DC-based trade association, launched a similar criticism. 'It is extremely disheartening that the administration would abandon its priority-setting chemicals management process before it is even given the opportunity to work,' says NPRA's president, Charles Drevna. 'We now question how the United States will keep its commitment to our neighbours.'
ChAMP was created initially to implement commitments that the US made in August 2007 at the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Leaders Summit, in Montebello, Canada. At that time, the US agreed to complete screening-level chemical prioritisations and initiate appropriate action on an estimated 6,750 chemicals.
'One cannot help but gain the impression that this is less about science and more about politics,' Drevna adds. 'Using complete science to set priorities is fundamental to sound chemicals management.'
EPA says it is working to determine how best to ramp up efforts to assess, prioritise and take risk management action on chemicals of concern. The agency will announce more specifics this summer, and it plans to seek public input at that time.
Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Europe
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