EPA Releases First Chemical Action Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued its first Chemical Action Plan (CAP).  The plan deals with  phthalates, which are found in some food packaging and cosmetics.  But anyone in the chemical industry should take notice, as this CAP comes as part of EPA’s efforts to enhance the existing chemicals program under the Toxic Substances Control Act. EPA has identified an initial list of widely recognized chemicals, including phthalates, for action plan development based on one or more of the following factors: their presence in humans; persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic  characteristics; use in consumer products; or production volume.

Although many in industry support  EPA’s effort to update agency actions for prioritized chemicals under TSCA, there is much to question in this effort so far, including the fact that the initial set of chemicals seem to have been selected based on their current “high-profile” nature. EPA should prioritize chemicals for the CAP program based on scientific criteria that reflect available hazard, use, and exposure information.  Despite the new Administration's campaign promises, there has been little transparency, and in fact great uncertainty, over the scientific basis for the selection of these chemicals.  Unfortunately, the CAP process to date provides no evidence of a systematic, science-based approach to chemicals management.

A large body of scientific data already exists about phthalates, and these products have been subject to numerous government safety assessments.  Bio-monitoring data shows that exposure to phthalates in the general public are below safety limits established by the EPA and the European Union. In assessing potential future restrictions on certain phthalates, EPA plans to weigh the relative toxicity and feasibility of phthalate substitutes. Identification of safer and affordable non-phthalate substitutes will be an important consideration in any action that would restrict the use
of these chemicals.  EPA intends to conduct a Design for the Environment and Green Chemistry alternatives assessment by 2012. The information developed could be used to encourage industry to move away from phthalates in a non-regulatory setting to expand risk management effects beyond whatever regulatory action might be taken under TSCA, or could be used as input to a regulatory action. 

EPA also intends to lay the groundwork to consider initiating in 2012 rulemaking under TSCA section 6(a) to further regulate phthalates. Readers know how regulatory events can spawn and impact toxic tort litigation.  It should be noted  that an Action Plan is intended to describe the courses of action the Agency plans to pursue in the near term to address its concerns. The Action Plan does not constitute a final Agency determination or other final Agency action.