News Analysis: EPA Proposes Tougher Chemical Policies

The Environmental Protection Agency has just announced new guidelines to overhaul the country's chemical policies. EPA director Lisa Jackson calls this move "transformative." The new policy proposals coincide with growing public concern about the harmful effects of chemicals found in items people use everyday. The Allegheny Front's news analyst Ann Murray joins host Matthew Craig to discuss the proposals.

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OPEN: The Environmental Protection Agency has just announced new guidelines to overhaul the country's chemical policies. EPA director Lisa Jackson calls this move "transformative." The new policy proposals coincide with growing public concern about the harmful effects of chemicals found in items people come into contact with everyday. The Allegheny Front's news analyst Ann Murray joins me to discuss the proposals.

M: The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 is the last major chemical policy set up by the federal government. Why does EPA head, Lisa Jackson want to change it?

A: Under the current act, the EPA has to prove that chemicals are dangerous rather than chemical manufacturer proving that chemicals are safe. EPA doesnít have the right under this act to mandate that chemical manufacturers collect and report toxicity findings. That lack of information makes it very hard to determine which chemicals are harmful.

M: Weíre talking about tens of thousands of chemicals, arenít we?

A: Yes, at least 80,000 chemicals found in everything products from toys and bottles to cell phones and medical instruments.

M: To clarify, the US Food and Drug Adminstration handles chemicals found in food, drugs and cosmetics.

A: Right.

M: What does Lisa Jackson propose to change in the Toxic Substance Control Act?

A: She wants to overhaul the act by doing a couple things. First, she wants Congress to pass a law that would switch the onus of proof to the manufacturers. Chemical manufacturers would have to prove that their chemicals are safe and would be required to collect and report toxicity findings to the EPA. Secondly, sheíd like to use existing regulations to prioritize chemicals so that the chemicals that are considered to be potentially hazardous are reviewed first.

M: How would the EPA prioritize tens of thousands of chemicals

A: Thatís currently being debated by the EPA, chemical manufacturers and various environmental groups. The manufacturers believe that existing information about chemicals should be used for the evaluation and prioritization to expedite the list. EPA and environmental groups say existing information would be a beginning.

M: What else do they want to do?

A: They say that additional research is needed because so little is known about so many chemicals. They believe it would be very difficult to evaluate and potentially ban dangerous drugs without more information. Chemical groups like phthalates and bisphenol A have gotten a lot of attention as potentially harmful.

M: How are those chemicals used in products?

A: Bisphenol A is used to make hard plastics like baby bottles and phthalates are used to make things adhesive like glues. Both are associated with hormone disruption.

M: How many drugs have been evaluated and banned under the current act?

>A: Of the 80,000 chemicals under the EPAís purvue, only 200 have been evaluated and five actually banned. That includes asbestos, dioxin.

M: Wonít increasing the scrutiny of chemicals make it more expensive for manufacturers?

A: Yes. It will mean more research and reporting to the EPA.

M: What have manufacturers said about the EPAís proposal to tighten up chemical policies?

A: At least in the press , trade groups have been pretty positive about the proposals.

M: Why, if itís going to cost them more time and money?

A: Theyíve said that theyíre looking for consistency and theyíd prefer federal rules rather than a patchwork of state laws. Theyíve lost consumer confidence with some chemicals and they want to regain that and increase sales.

M: When will Congress introduce legislation to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act?

A: It could be as early as this month.

M: Before we wrap up, I have a couple questions about the Pennsylvania budget that was finally passed. How did environmental agencies fare?

A: Both the Department of Environmental Protection and the DCNR took a hit. The DEP was reduced by $58 million, or 27 percent, line items that got no funding included climate change initiatives, the consumer energy program and an $11 million safe water effort. Conservation and Natural Resources lost 19 percent, including more than half of what it spent on forest pest management and a little over $9 million from its state parks operations.

M: Did the gas severance tax pass?

A: No. Many groups are angry because Pennsylvania is the only state without this kind of tax. This tax might have stopped more public lands from being opened up to gas drilling.

M: Thanks, Ann

A: Thank you.