Using safer chemicals and improving chemical reporting has become a top priority for companies as the federal government moves closer to chemical reform legislation and consumers increasingly demand safer products and product transparency.
The last few years has seen retailers and manufactures including Target, Walmart and SC Johnson take steps to phase out hazardous chemicals in their products while the Retail Industry Leaders Association has rolled out an initiative designed to streamline the required safety data sheet process used by suppliers and retailers to exchange chemical and product information.
These companies are on the right track. Chemical reform and stricter reporting guidelines are well underway — and industry should prepare itself, say business and advocacy groups. Here’s what to expect in the upcoming months.
Toxic Substances Control Act Reform
This is the big one, years in the making. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) — the US’ primary chemical regulation — hasn’t been updated in almost 40 years. This has led to uncertainty and varying restrictions at the state level and in the private sector, creating a chaotic marketplace for business, says Jack Pratt, the Environmental Defense Fund’s chemicals campaign director.
The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, currently in the US Senate, aims to fix this system. It’s got major bipartisan support — 60 Senators from 38 states as cosponsors — and support from dozens of industry associations, as well as environmental and public health groups. Both the American Chemistry Council and EDF support this proposal.
“This legislation would bring TSCA into the 21st Century and importantly create the kind of predictability, consistency and certainty that manufacturers and the national marketplace need, while also strengthening oversight and providing consumers with more confidence in the safety of chemicals,” says ACC spokesperson Scott Openshaw. “We are optimistic a bill can be delivered to the President’s desk this year.”
Businesses and consumers alike will benefit from TSCA reform, Pratt says. Earlier this year EDF published a blueprint for safer chemicals in the marketplace that it developed in working with Walmart and other businesses. The blueprint lists five things companies can do to ensure safer products.
“Today, consumers can’t assume the safety of the chemicals in the products they buy,” Pratt says. “Business should have a lot to gain from a credible, federal safety system that works and restores consumer confidence in the safety of chemicals used in consumer products and materials.”
Toxics Release Inventory Expansion
In October, the EPA said it will propose new regulations requiring natural gas processing plants to file Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reports. The expanded chemicals reporting rules are in response to a lawsuit by environmental and open government organizations.
TRI data is submitted annually to the EPA, states and tribes by facilities in industry sectors such as manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities and commercial hazardous waste.
Producers can expect to incur costs from monitoring emissions data and submitting annual reports to EPA, says Keith Matthews, former director of the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division in the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, and now counsel at Sidley Austin LLP.
“All told, these are likely to amount to thousands of dollars per producer,” Matthews says. “Early estimates of the actual costs of the rule to industry have not been discovered. EPA will, however, have to develop estimated costs of the regulation as part of the rulemaking to add the gas processing industry to the list of industries required to report under TRI.”
Other Chemical Rules in the Works
While they may not be as far reaching as TSCA reform and TRI expansion, businesses should pay attention to other chemical rules expected to be finalized in the next few months, Pratt says.
“EPA is expected to finalize in the next few months its regulation restricting the use of formaldehyde in plywood and other pressed wood products, used in furniture, cabinets, etc.,” he says. “EPA is also expected to proposed new rules to restrict the use of trichloroethylene (TCE) in spot removers and spray adhesives, and the use of two highly toxic chemicals, methylene dichloride and N-methylpyrrolidone, in paint strippers.”
Whether driven by the market or by new chemical regulations, change is coming. Leading companies are already moving towards safer chemicals and more transparent reporting practices. And ultimately, industry experts say this will likely help businesses through increased consumer confidence as well as safer products and workplaces.
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