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EPA Assistant Administrator Steve Owens Resigns

EPA Administration/Chemical Regulation:

On Tuesday, October 25, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the resignation of Assistant Administrator Steve Owens.  Readers will recall that President Obama appointed Mr. Owens the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), which is the office implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the Pollution Prevention Act, and other federal laws concerning chemicals management.  November 30, 2011, will be Mr. Owens’ last day in office before returning home to Arizona where he previously served as the Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.  It is unclear at this time who will assume Mr. Owen’s responsibilities and what effect his departure will have on EPA’s various chemicals management initiatives.

Mr. Owens served the EPA during a two-year period in which Congress, the courts, and various stakeholders engaged in vigorous debate and litigation over the appropriate regulation of chemicals in the United States.  In a 2010 brown-bag session (available on podcast), sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Pesticides, Chemical Regulation, and Right-to-Know Committee, Mr. Owens discussed many of the initiatives the Agency was undertaking and some of the challenges it faced as it participated and attempted to shape the debate. 

In a letter to EPA staff announcing his resignation, Mr. Owens said:

“I am writing to tell you that, after more than two years of working closely with all of you to protect Americans’ health and environment, I have made the difficult decision to leave EPA. My last day in the office will be November 30, 2011.
 
As many of you know, my family has remained in Arizona while I have been working at EPA headquarters in Washington. Although I have been able to get home to see my family periodically, I have essentially been away from them for more than two years. After a lot of hard thinking, we have decided that it is time for me to come home. My wife needs her husband; my sons need their father; and I need them.
 
While I am very happy that I will be back with my family, I will miss all of you greatly. It has been a true privilege to work with so many incredibly talented and dedicated people who are doing so much to protect the health and safety of the American people and our environment.
 
I am extremely grateful to Lisa Jackson for her wonderful friendship and the remarkable vision and leadership she provides to this Agency. We are truly fortunate that she is EPA’s Administrator.
 
As I said earlier, I will continue working alongside you all through November 30. Administrator Jackson will share additional information about the transition process shortly.
 
In closing, let me thank you so much for the friendship and support you have given me during my time at EPA. Please know how much I appreciate you and all that you are doing for our country.”

 

EPA Publishes Rule to Improve Reporting of Chemical Information – Chemical Data Reporting Rule, Formerly Inventory Update Rule

TSCA – Inventory Update Rule:

Readers may recall a post from this time last year concerning EPA’s proposal to revise TSCA’s Inventory Update Rule.  Well, the Agency has now published the final version, which is available here.  Also, here are links to commentary on the rule from Environmental Defense and the National Petrochemical and Refiners’ Assocation, which should give readers a flavor of the contrasting opinions currently circulating.  Embedded below is a copy of EPA’s press release.  Check back soon for a more detailed posting, setting out a short analysis of the rule.

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is increasing the type and amount of information it collects on commercial chemicals from chemical manufacturers, allowing the agency to better identify and manage potential risks to Americans’ health and the environment. The improved rule, known as the chemical data reporting rule (CDR), also requires that companies submit the information electronically to EPA, rather than on paper, and limits confidentiality claims by companies. The changes are part of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s commitment to strengthen the agency’s chemical management program and increase the transparency of critical information on chemicals. 

“Collecting this critical information on widely used chemicals will enable EPA to more effectively identify and address potential chemical risks,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “The new electronic reporting requirement and limits on confidentiality claims also will bring EPA’s data collection effort into the 21st Century and give the American people greater access to a wider range of information on chemicals to which their children and families are exposed every day.”

The CDR rule, which falls under the Toxic Substances Control Act inventory update rule (IUR), requires more frequent reporting of critical information on chemicals and requires the submission of new and updated information relating to potential chemical exposures, current production volume, manufacturing site-related data, and processing and use-related data for a larger number of chemicals. The improved information will allow EPA to better identify and manage risks associated with chemicals.

EPA is requiring companies to submit the information through the Internet, using EPA’s electronic reporting tool. On-line reporting will improve both data quality and EPA’s ability to use the data, as well as make it more accessible to the public.

Companies will be required to start following the new reporting requirements in the next data submission period, which will occur February 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012.

More information about the CDR Rule and reporting program is available at www.epa.gov/iur.

Japan Revises Its Annual Notification Requirements to Provide Greater Protection for Foreign Suppliers’ Confidential Business Information

Japan/Chemical Notification and Reporting:

Early in June 2011, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) announced a revision to the process Japanese companies use to annually notify the agency about the chemical substances that they import.  Under the new process, a foreign supplier can provide certain confidential business information (CBI) directly to METI rather than to the Japanese customer, and the Japanese customer would submit the remainder of the notification.  This joint process is a welcome approach, and although it is not a complete solution, it is an encouraging signal that METI will adopt a practical approach to implementing the 2009 amendments to the Chemical Substances Control Law (CSCL).

The annual notification requirement was adopted as part of a series of amendments to the CSCL that the government enacted in 2009 to move the country toward a more risk-based approach to chemical regulation.  For readers less familiar with the CSCL, the law is Japan’s analogue to the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Several agencies, including METI, administer the law.  The CSCL generally requires Japanese manufacturers and importers to notify the agencies and receive their approval before commencing manufacture or importation of “new” chemical substances that are not otherwise excluded or exempt.  The law also bans certain substances and imposes restrictions and reporting requirements on others.  The annual notification requirement adopted in 2009 is distinct from the new chemical notification requirement.  The annual requirement applies to substances already on the market, and it was designed to provide additional exposure-related information to the agencies so that they can identify those whose risks warrant further management through restrictions or other measures.

The annual notification requirement applies to two classes of chemical substances, “General Chemical Substances (GCS)” and “Priority Assessment Chemical Substances (PACS)” that are manufactured or imported at or above 1 metric ton during the previous fiscal year.  (There is a similar notification process for so-called Monitoring Chemical Substances (MCS) that are manufactured or imported at or above 1 kg per year.)  When a GCS is present in a mixture below 10%, or a PACS is present as an impurity at less than 1%, it is not counted toward the 1-ton threshold.  Japanese companies that manufacture or import a reportable substance above the threshold must submit a notification form to METI between April 1 and June 30 each year.  2011 is the inaugural notification year.  The prescribed form requires information about the quantity of the substance imported or manufactured, as well as information about its chemical identity and uses.  

Prior to the revision METI announced, foreign suppliers, especially of mixtures, faced a tough choice.  Basically, they would either need to disclose to their Japanese customers the identities and percentages of the substances in their mixtures, potentially losing CBI since many of the mixtures are proprietary, or lose the customers by not providing information necessary to fulfilling a compliance obligation.  Preferring neither option, suppliers in the United States and elsewhere began lobbying METI for an alternative.  METI announced the alternative earlier this month, issuing guidance that revises the annual notification process.  However, the revision is not as comprehensive as what was requested since it does not protect from disclosure information concerning PACs.

METI’s revision affects annual notification of General Chemical Substances, but not PACs.  METI issued a three-page guidance document explaining the revised notification process.  A copy of the guidance is available here.  In it, METI explains that a Japanese company could submit a joint notification with its foreign supplier when the foreign supplier claims as CBI the chemical identity or its concentration rate in a mixture.  The Japanese company would initially complete as much of the notification form as possible and submit it to METI along with a cover letter explaining the situation and identifying the foreign supplier.  The incomplete form would function as a placeholder while the supplier completed the final version.  The supplier would then submit the final form to METI and the notification process would be considered complete. 

METI’s revision is an improvement on the annual notification process.  How well it works remains to be seen.  Presumably, the agency will make an evaluation at the end of this first notification cycle.  Readers interested in Japanese chemical regulatory control matters should check back periodically for further updates on this development and others in Japan.

EPA Denies Protection for Chemical Identities in TSCA 8(e) Reports

TSCA:

As part of EPA’s initiative to increase transparency under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), on February 10, 2011, the Agency sent a letter to five companies informing them that the identities of 14 chemicals contained in certain health and safety studies were ineligible for protection from public disclosure.  The studies are “substantial risk” reports that the companies submitted to EPA to fulfill their obligations under section 8(e) of TSCA (15 U.S.C. § 2607(e)).  Readers will recall that substantial risk reports disclose information that reasonably supports the conclusion that a chemical substance or mixture (collectively “chemicals”) presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment.  EPA reasons that the public has a right to know the identities of chemicals posing such risks.  In contrast, industry frequently contends that disclosure of identities could reveal commercially valuable information about formulations or manufacturing processes.  To stop the disclosure of the identities of its chemicals, a company would need to initiate a legal challenge within 30 days of receiving the Agency’s February letter.

The letters comprise the Agency’s first serious attempt to implement a new transparency policy announced on January 21, 2010.  (The scope of the policy was subsequently expanded in May 2010.)  As announced in January, EPA will deny Confidential Business Information (CBI) protection for the identities of chemicals included in section 8(e) reports when those chemicals are listed on the public version of the TSCA Inventory.  EPA contends that substantial risk reports are a type of health and safety study, as defined under section 3(6) of TSCA (15 U.S.C. § 2602(6)) and the regulations at 40 C.F.R. § 2.306(a)(3).  The Agency also asserts that a chemical’s identity is either part of a health and safety study or the data included within such study, as explained in various TSCA regulations such as those at 40 C.F.R. § 716.3; § 720.3(k).  And because section 14(b)(1) of TSCA (15 U.S.C. § 2613(b)(1)) “does not prohibit disclosure of” health and safety studies (and their data) concerning chemicals offered for commercial distribution, EPA concludes that a chemical’s identity would be eligible for disclosure when it is listed on the public version of the TSCA Inventory and it is the subject of a substantial risk report.

According to EPA’s letter, the chemicals fit squarely within the Agency’s policy.  Each of the chemicals is currently listed on the public version of the TSCA Inventory of “existing” substances.  (The Inventory is EPA’s official list of chemicals that can be lawfully imported or manufactured for commercial distribution without first submitting a premanufacture notice under section 5 of TSCA – the public version lists those chemicals whose identities are not confidential.)  And each of them supposedly was the subject of a substantial risk report.

However, section 14(b)(1) prohibits disclosure of data from health and safety studies when such disclosure would reveal “processes used in the manufacturing or processing of a chemical substance or mixture or, in the case of a mixture, the release [would disclose] the portion of the mixture comprised by any of the chemical substances in the mixture.”  These exceptions are designed to prevent the disclosure of trade secrets and other sensitive business information.  EPA’s letter seems to anticipate this objection from the companies, noting “that the [chemical] identity itself, as well as any information that might be derived from it about processes or portions, has already been disclosed” and therefore neither exception applies.

Whether the companies will seek judicial review remains to be seen.  Many challenged CBI claims are withdrawn, and judicial review is expensive.  If the companies seek judicial review, they may challenge EPA’s statutory interpretion or its conclusion that neither disclosure exception applies.  (If a challenge(s) is brought, look for a future blog post discussing the various arguments.)

Regardless of whether there’s a challenge, the Agency’s decision is somewhat controversial – applauded by some and criticized by others.  Unless there’s a successful legal challenge or some other restraint imposed, look for EPA’s continued release of unredacted substantial risk reports and possibly other health and safety studies.  The Agency has clearly signalled its intention to increase the amount of publicly-available information concerning chemical risks.  When balancing commercial interests against environmental and health interests, EPA’s current administration plans to favor the latter at the expense of the former, raising the question:  “Could a better balance be achieved?”  Perhaps – EPA could release the reports with a descriptive generic name in lieu of the chemical’s specific name, a practice the Agency’s used elsewhere under TSCA. 

EPA Requires Testing of 19 High Production Volume (HPV) Chemicals

TSCA/HPV Chemicals:

On January 7, 2011, EPA published a final rule under section 4(a)(1)(B) of theToxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), (15U.S.C. 2603(a)(1)(B)), requiring manufacturers, importers, and processors to test 19 high production volume (HPV) chemicals.  The rule, which takes effect on February 7, 2011, requires these persons to obtain screening level data for health and environmental effects and chemical fate, and then provide that data to the Agency.  The rule is one of a series of actions that EPA is taking to ensure that it has the data necessary to adequately review priority chemicals.  In addition, now that the Agency has issued a final test rule, any person (including those required to test) who exports, or intends to export, any of the 19 chemicals will be subject to the export notification requirements in 40 CFR part 707, subpart D.  The chemicals are listed below:

CAS No.

Chemical Name

75-07-0

Acetaldehyde

78-11-5

1,3-Propanediol, 2,2-bis[(nitrooxy)methyl]-, dinitrate (ester)

84-65-1

9,10-Anthracenedione

89-32-7

1H,3H-Benzo[1,2-c:4,5-c’]difuran-1,3,5,7-tetrone

110-44-1

2,4-Hexadienoic acid, (E,E)-

118-82-1

Phenol, 4,4′-methylenebis[2,6-bis(1,1-dimethylethyl)-

119-61-9

diphenylmethanone

144-62-7

Ethanedioic acid

149-44-0

Methanesulfinic acid, hydroxy-, monosodium salt

2524-04-1

Phosphorochloridothioic acid, O,O-diethyl ester

4719-04-4

1,3,5-Triazine-1,3,5(2H,4H,6H)-triethanol

6381-77-7

D-erythro-Hex-2-enonic acid, g-lactone, monosodium salt

31138-65-5

D-gluco-Heptonic acid, monosodium salt, (2.xi.)-

66241-11-0

C.I. Leuco Sulphur Black 1

68187-76-8

Castor oil, sulfated, sodium salt

68187-84-8

Castor oil, oxidized

68479-98-1

Benzenediamine, ar,ar-diethyl-ar-methyl-

68527-02-6

Alkenes, C12–24, chloro

68647-60-9

Hydrocarbons, C > 4

The 19 chemicals were originally included in the voluntary High Production Volume (HPV) Challenge Program, which “challenged” companies to make health and environmental effects data publicly available on chemicals produced or imported in the United States in the greatest quantities.  HPV chemicals are classified as those chemicals produced or imported in the United States in quantities of 1 million pounds or more per year.  EPA has determined that HPV chemicals account for approximately 95% of total chemical production in the United States.  As of June 2007, companies sponsored more than 2,200 HPV chemicals, with approximately 1,400 chemicals sponsored directly through the HPV Challenge Program and over 860 chemicals sponsored indirectly through international efforts.  However, no data were provided for the 19 chemicals, making a mandatory test rule necessary.

More information on EPA’s HPV Challenge Program is available here.