Jeff Stier: Look to Canada for ways to improve the science behind chemical assessments

Jeff Stier, risk analyst with the National Center for Public Policy Research, offered several interesting insights the other day regarding how chemicals are assessed and managed in different countries — pointing out there are lessons to be learned from our neighbors up north.

Northern Exposure

We agree with Stier that chemical management regimes in other major countries like Europe and Canada can help inform our efforts to enhance public, industry and government confidence in how chemicals are assessed and regulated here at home.

It has become clear, most recently from a report from Indiana University, that REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), as it is written and implemented in Europe, is “much more complex and burdensome than the program needs to be” and would not perform well in the United States.

The Canadian chemicals management program, however, does have some real merits, especially when it comes to reviewing the science behind chemical risk assessments.

According to Stier:

If we truly want laws that strike a balance between science-based chemical safety and economic growth we should look to a recent and interesting application of Canada’s environmental protection rules. Environment Canada, our northern neighbor’s version of the Environmental Protection Agency, has a chemical review system that, from a process standpoint, is very different both from REACH and from the current and proposed US laws.

Canadian law includes a provision that allows industry to request that an independent board of scientists take another look at the science, especially if new, more accurate data has become available that could better inform the assessment. As Stier explains:

Canada’s chemicals management program assesses human health and environmental risks of industrial chemicals. If a product under review is deemed toxic, the Minister of the Environment can issue regulations to minimize risk. But an innovative provision of the Canadian law allows that if the underlying risk assessment was flawed and not based on the latest science, industry can petition the minister to order a board review, a group of independent scientists, to take another look at the issue in light of the latest science and data.

Getting the Science Right

As science evolves and methodologies improve, there ought to be opportunities in the regulatory process to incorporate new data — not default assumptions and uncertainty factors — and to base assessments on our current understanding of how chemicals interact with our bodies and our environment.

Yet, federal organizations like EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program continue to rely on very conservative and precautionary assumptions. These practices have been criticized time and again by such review panels as the National Academy of Sciences, for lack of transparency, inconsistency and failing to use reliable evaluation procedures to integrate data across studies to arrive at determinations of cause and effect for environmentally relevant exposures.

Getting the science right behind these assessments is critical because chemical assessments drive so many other important policy decisions that can have a major impact on jobs and the economy.

That is why ACC and our members continue push for science-based improvements to IRIS and other assessment programs to ensure our nation’s chemical management system delivers sound public health decisions, while at the same time encourages innovation and economic growth.

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