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House Energy & Commerce Committee questions the science behind chemical risk assessments

Several members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee met with stakeholders from the regulated community last week to discuss the growing concern around the quality of the science used by the Federal Government and the adverse impact it’s having on U.S. economy.

Committee members asked participants to share their experiences on how flawed federal chemical assessments by EPA and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) have negatively impacted their businesses through poor regulatory decisions, unnecessary public concern, or misguided product de-selection in the marketplace.

Several real-world examples, including recent chemical assessments on formaldehyde, arsenic, hexavalent chromium, manganese and styrene, highlighted how these assessments have resulted in actions that have led to significant expenditures of private and public resources, impacted our national competitiveness, or threatened U.S. jobs.

Formaldehyde

Mark Alness, vice president of Momentive Specialty Chemicals, explained that the risk values recommended in the 2010 EPA draft IRIS assessment for formaldehyde are so unrealistically low that even miniscule quantities found naturally in human breath would be considered a carcinogenic risk under the proposed standard.

His company uses a formaldehyde-based resin to create engineered wood products that are more affordable than lumber and help reduce deforestation. Customers that rely on affordable, environmentally responsible engineered wood to furnish their homes, Alness related, have become confused about the conflicting information EPA is publishing about formaldehyde. In some cases, the uncertainty has led to product de-selection that has severely eroded a key customer base — to the point that what was once a $100 million business has essentially disappeared.

In addition, the EPA IRIS risk values have been referenced in local air quality standards, resulting in tremendous costs and redirected capital that could have been used to make manufacturing facilities  more sustainable, and to create jobs in Kentucky. Instead, his business has experienced added burdens even though the science does not support the level of risk projected by EPA assessments.

Manganese

Eramet Marietta, Inc. CEO John A. Willoughby runs a steel production business, one of only two in the U.S., that provides raw materials to domestic steelmakers. Willoughby explained how outdated science has led to unnecessary proposed regulations that could have dire consequences for their facility in Ohio.

Willoughby said that even though EPA acknowledged that an overly restrictive IRIS assessment of manganese needs to be updated, EPA nonetheless proceeded to propose a rule based on the assessment that would effectively force them out of business and eliminate 500 manufacturing jobs — a rule that would hurt U.S. manufacturing but have practically no impact on offshore competitors like Korea and China.

Styrene

Teri Schenk, environmental health and safety manager at Global Composites, Inc., which makes custom molded fiberglass reinforced plastics for the recreation vehicle (RV) industry, said that her company would like to expand its business but they are having a tough time securing workers compensation and liability insurance because of NTP’s cancer listing decision for styrene in the 12th Report on Carcinogens.

Getting it Right

As ACC senior toxicologist Dr. Rick Becker offered in summary, it’s incredibly important to get assessments right since they drive so many important decisions. According to Becker, the root of the problem stems from the fact that the federal government’s science has not kept up with the times.

Regulatory organizations are overly reliant on default assumptions in assessments, despite the fact that better science has been brought forward. Today, researchers know more than ever about chemicals, yet regulatory proposals still fail to take into account the best available science. Becker aptly pointed out that while Congress (through the recent passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012) has directed EPA to improve chemical assessments, it’s important to verify the Agency will move forward and actually implement the necessary improvements.

 

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