Senate Hearing on TSCA Reform Featured Industry Experts

The Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health convened a hearing last week with leaders of businesses that manufacture or use chemicals to hear their business views on reforming U.S. chemical safety law. The hearing was the third in a series of oversight hearings leading up to the possible introduction of legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). 

Entitled "Business Perspectives on Reforming U.S. Chemical Safety Laws," the hearing featured testimony from Charlie Drevna, President of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.  His remarks addressed the call from some observers for a European-style replacement regulatory regime. The European Union has started to implement new legislation – Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH), but many of the perceptions of REACH are incorrect. For example, rather than relieving the government of the burden of chemical safety, REACH only increases the burden on industry while it does not reduce the burden on government. No government authority is going to receive a chemical dossier from industry and take it at face value. Furthermore, REACH places so much burden on industry that small- and medium-sized chemical manufacturers are already facing significant difficulties complying with the program. REACH, contrary to some commentary, is unlikely to spur innovation in safer chemicals. Innovation is a function of spending on research and development and ease of entry into the marketplace. Toxicity and other laboratory testing is considered part of research and development and typically comes out of R&D budgets. That leaves less money for new, and often safer, product development. REACH is a regulatory concept that has never been attempted anywhere in the world, at any time. Authorities in Europe have already been inundated with so much information that they simply cannot keep up.

Dr. Neil C. Hawkins, Vice President, EH&S and Sustainability  for The Dow Chemical Company testified that an ideal chemical safety program would base its decisions on a consistent scientific
evaluation of both hazard and potential exposure (an evaluation of risk), using a weight-of-evidence approach. A weight-of-evidence approach requires critical evaluation of the entire body of available data for consistency and biological plausibility. Studies conducted and funded by industry are necessary and valuable contributions to the understanding of potential public health and environmental effects related to the manufacture and use of its products. Industry scientists have expert knowledge of the chemicals they manufacture, especially as this relates to the development and interpretation of the science needed to comply with governmental requirements around
the world. Research should be judged on the basis of scientific merit, without regard for funding source or where the studies are conducted (e.g. academia, government, or industry). 

Also testifying was Linda Fisher, Vice President, Safety Health and the Environment for DuPont.  She stressed in her remarks that as the agency contemplates exposure reductions it is important that the EPA be required to take into account the societal benefits from the use of chemicals and the time and complexity of bringing substitutes to market. Congress should avoid presumptive bans or rigid phase-out schedules. Bans and deadlines for phase-outs or substitution that fail to account for the realities of transitioning to new ingredients, receiving needed customer and regulatory approvals, or modifying manufacturing facilities, are counter-productive. Such actions could lead to unnecessarily disrupting markets, reduce public access to valued products, and cede markets to global competitors.

The issue of confidential business information, or CBI, also needs attention. The ability to preserve legitimate CBI and prevent piracy of intellectual property is critical to U.S. competitiveness and innovation. If companies simply give innovation away there is little reason to innovate.  Intergovernmental sharing of CBI data with proper protections, whether between state and federal governments or nation to nation, should be facilitated.


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.





FDA Releases Draft Guidance on Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies

The FDA has released its draft guidance on Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies, or REMS, laying out guidelines for how pharmaceutical companies should follow the plans, and describing the consequences for not doing so. The draft guidance for industry entitled ‘‘Format and Content of Proposed Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS), REMS Assessments, and Proposed REMS Modifications,’’  follows on the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of
2007 (FDAAA) which added new provisions to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act giving FDA the authority to require REMS.

For every drug approved by the FDA, the risks associated with its use are communicated through the labeling/product package insert. The manufacturer or the FDA may determine that a formal ongoing effort may be needed to monitor and manage risk issues, and thus that a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy is necessary to go beyond traditional product labeling to ensure that the benefits outweigh the risks on an ongoing basis.  FDA may now require REMS for any NDA, ANDA, or BLA, at any stage of the product life-cycle.  REMS components include medication guides; patient package inserts; a communication plan for health care providers; elements to ensure safe use including requirements for those who prescribe, dispense, or use the drug; and a timetable for REMS submission.  About 60 medicines are currently sold with such plans.

We have posted before about the opportunities and pitfalls in REMS that could have a significant effect on future litigation involving the product. The REMS process may engender “bad documents” (a paper trail that casts the company or its products in a bad light). On the other hand, one of the common claims asserted in product litigation is that a manufacturer was aware of and failed to adequately warn about its product’s risk. As the REMS process is specifically designed to increase the effectiveness of warnings to the health care and patient communities, it may bolster a defense against the assertion that the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings.

The new draft guidance describes the format and content of a proposed risk evaluation and mitigation strategy, including REMS supporting documentation, the content of assessments and proposed modifications of approved REMS, what identifiers to use on REMS documents, and how to communicate with FDA about a REMS. The draft guidance was issued consistent with FDA’s good guidance practices regulation (21 CFR 10.115). The draft guidance, when finalized, will represent the agency’s current thinking on the format and content of proposed REMS, REMS assessments, and proposed REMS modifications.

REMS required by the FDA are subject to regulatory inspection and are enforceable under the FDCA as amended by FDAAA.  A drug may be considered misbranded if the responsible person for that drug fails to comply with a requirement of the approved strategy.  Firms that don't follow their plans will face fines of up to $10 million for a continued violation, according to the FDA guidance.

FDA To Hold Meeting on Risk Communication Strategies

The Food and Drug Administration’s Risk Communication Advisory Committee will be holding a public meeting on April 30, 2009, and May 1, 2009, at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Advisory Committee Conference Room, in Rockville, MD. On both days the Committee will discuss the Agency’s draft risk communication strategic plan and will be asked for comment and further advice on strategic priorities for research on effective risk communication.

That draft plan describes FDA’s strategy for improving how the agency communicates about regulated products. The strategy is intended to guide program development and research planning in a dynamic environment where rapidly evolving technologies enable patients and consumers to become increasingly involved in managing their own health and well-being. FDA has been looking to improve how it produces communications about the risks and benefits of regulated products, as well as how it oversees those communications produced by regulated entities. For example, as the Internet and emerging technologies have both enabled and fed the public’s demand for greater transparency and communication frequency, the traditional waiting periods for FDA guidance have given way to communication in real time. Designing a contemporary risk communication strategy is key to FDA’s efforts to reposition itself to realize its potential for effective protection and promotion of health, enabled by 21st century knowledge and technology.

Effective communication supports both optimal use of medical products and safe consumption of foods to maximize health. The IOM report on The Future of Drug Safety: Promoting and Protecting the Health of the Public (2006) focused on drug safety, but also highlighted communication more generally, referencing FDA’s mission of helping the public get the accurate, science-based information it needs. In response to an IOM recommendation, FDA launched its Risk Communication Advisory Committee in 2007 to give advice about FDA’s risk communication approaches for all FDA-regulated products.

The FDA has begun to identify research needs in this area, including on the broad topics of:

  • When and what to communicate
  • Reaching the audience (dissemination)
  • Ensuring audience understanding
  • Motivating audiences
  • Evaluating effectiveness of communications

EPA Releases New Strategic Plan for Evaluating Potential Toxicity of Chemicals

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a new strategic plan last week that is designed to allow it to better assess potential risks from chemicals by adopting new toxicity testing methods. The “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Strategic Plan for Evaluating the Toxicity of Chemicals” outlines a new scientific approach that will allow EPA to assess risks from many chemicals and mixtures by adopting new toxicity testing methods that use recent advances in molecular biology, genomics, and computational sciences.

Readers of MassTortDefense who have an interest in toxic torts know the impact that government testing and evaluation of chemicals can have on litigation. Under the EPA's traditional risk assessment approach, the agency relied mostly on data generated through the intentional high dosing of experimental animals. While this approach has provided EPA a basis for much regulatory decision-making over the past several decades, such testing has known limitations arising from the dose-response concept and inter-species variations. Traditional testing also has been less useful on complex issues such as cumulative exposures, life-stage vulnerabilities and genetic susceptibilities.

The new approach is to focus more on identifying and evaluating cellular response pathways responsible for adverse health effects when sufficiently perturbed by environmental agents under realistic exposure conditions. The new Strategic Plan is centered on three interrelated components: (1) the use of toxicity pathways identification and use of this information in screening and prioritization of chemicals for further testing; (2) the use of toxicity pathways information in risk assessment; and (3) the institutional transition necessary to implement such practices across EPA.

In addition to the scientific bases, the new forms of testing, when fully implemented, will permit EPA to screen more environmental chemicals more quickly for potentially harmful effects. The strategic plan will also allow EPA scientists to look at how children may react differently to the same chemicals as adults, thus providing better health protection for children, says the Agency.

The EPA plan builds on the 2007 report, Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: a Vision and a Strategy, of the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, regarding toxicity testing and risk assessment.

Federal Court Denies Certification of PFOA Medical Monitoring Class

A federal court in West Virginia has denied class certification in a claim brought against DuPont for the alleged release of perfluoroctanoic acid, a substance also known as PFOA or C-8, from its Washington Works plant in Wood County, West Virginia, into drinking water. See Rhodes v. E.I. DuPont De Nemours and Co., 2008 WL 4414720 (S.D. W.Va., September 30, 2008). According to the court, plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence that exposure to C-8 may be harmful to human health, but what “the plaintiffs misunderstand, however, is what they must show in order for me to certify the class. I cannot certify a class based on some potential harm to the general public, rather, there must be specific injuries to each member of the proposed class. The fact that a public health risk may exist … does not show the common individual injuries needed to certify a class action.”

The court viewed the plaintiffs as seeking primarily injunctive or declaratory relief in the form of a court-supervised medical monitoring program. While the likelihood of the plaintiffs' success on the merits is not relevant, the court must still engage in “rigorous analysis” to determine whether the proposed class meets the Rule 23 requirements. Gen. Tel. Co. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 161 (1982). A court may “probe behind the pleadings” to determine whether class certification is appropriate. Id.

A proposed class must be “cohesive” to be certified under Rule 23(b)(2). See Barnes v. Am. Tobacco Co., 161 F.3d 127,143 (3d. Cir.1998). This is particularly so because in a (b)(2) action, unnamed members are bound by the action without the opportunity to opt out. Barnes, 161 F.3d at 142-43. The cohesiveness requirement is similar to but “more stringent” than the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a). See Lienhart v. Dryvit Syst., Inc., 255 F.3d 138,147 n. 4 (4th Cir.2001); Barnes, 161 F.3d at 142-43.

Under West Virgina law, medical monitoring plaintiffs must first show a significant exposure. In a class action, if significant exposure is not a common issue, cohesiveness will be lacking. Exposure is significant if a plaintiff has been exposed to a larger quantity of the toxic substance or has been exposed for a longer duration than the general population. Thus, a plaintiff must be able to demonstrate that his exposure was somehow greater than what would normally be encountered by a person in everyday life.

Here, while the plaintiffs had evidence of the levels of chemical released, that evidence told the court nothing about how the plaintiffs’ C-8 exposure level compares to the level of C-8 exposure experienced by the general population. Evidence of the elevated C-8 concentrations in the named plaintiffs' blood likewise fails to show common exposure on a class-wide basis. The evidence of the higher C-8 concentration in the named plaintiffs' blood as compared to the general population suggests only that the named plaintiffs have possibly been “significantly exposed.”  Plaintiffs’ expert testimony did not provide a relevant comparison between the plaintiffs' exposure and the exposure of the general population. On this record, the general population's level of exposure to C-8 in their drinking water was unknown.

Under the second pertinent element of the medical monitoring cause of action, a plaintiff must demonstrate that her or she has suffered a significantly increased risk of contracting a particular disease relative to what would be the case in the absence of exposure. Furthermore, a plaintiff must also show that the exposure caused by the defendant was the proximate cause of that increased risk. In other words, the risk must be different and greater than it would have been absent the significant exposure at issue. Common proof of this element is always complicated because the plaintiffs must not only show that the class members have experienced a significantly increased risk but also that: 1) the risk is of a serious latent disease, 2) the defendant proximately caused that risk to each class member, and 3) the risk is significant relative to what it would have been absent the exposure.

The court agreed with DuPont’s argument that the plaintiffs could not show an increased risk of disease with class-wide proof because each class member's risk of disease will vary based upon: (a) variations in C-8 exposure and dose, and (b) variations in an individual's background risk of disease absent C-8 exposure. Plaintiffs had to concede that individual characteristics and habits will affect the level of risk experienced by each class member.

In a useful analysis, the court also explained why a regulatory risk assessment cannot and does not support an opinion that each individual class member had experienced a significantly increased risk of disease. In fact, a risk assessment is of limited utility in a toxic tort case, especially for the issue of causation, because of the risk assessment's distinct purpose. Risk assessments have largely been developed for regulatory purposes and thus serve a protection function in providing a level below which there is no appreciable risk to the general population. They do not provide information about actual risk or causation. See Bernard D. Goldstein & Mary Sue Henifin, Reference Guide on Toxicology in Federal Judicial Center Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence 413 (2d ed. 2000). Because of their appropriately prudent assumptions when there are limited data, risk assessments intentionally encompass the upper range of possible risks. Id.; see also Sutera v. Perrier Group of Am. Inc., 986 F.Supp. 655, 664 (D.Mass.1997) (rejecting regulatory standards as a measure of causation because the purpose of regulatory standards is to reduce public exposure to harmful substances); Allen v. Pa. Eng'g Corp., 102 F.3d 194, 198 (5th Cir.1996)); O'Neal v. Dep't of the Army, 852 F.Supp. 327, 333 (M.D.Pa.1994) (determining that risk figures based on the EPA's upper-bound estimates for another chemical are appropriate for regulatory purposes in which the goal is to be particularly cautious but overstate the actual risk and so, are inappropriate for use in determining whether medical monitoring should be instituted.).

Because a risk assessment overstates the risk to a population to achieve its protective and generalized goals, it is impossible to conclude with reasonable certainty that any one person exposed to a substance above the criterion established by the risk assessment has suffered a significantly increased risk. Precautionary measures to keep the general population safer are fundamentally distinct from the medical monitoring cause of action which provides relief to individuals that have already been “injured.”

Finally, on the element of need for medical monitoring, the court again found an absence of cohesion because if the individual nature of the inquiry. Plaintiffs’ expert seemed to assume that a member of the proposed medical monitoring class can have the determination of their particular and individualized diagnostic needs deferred until after the implementation of the medical monitoring protocol. While the proposed medical monitoring program was to be set up based on the “common” exposure, the implementation would be individualized. But while individualized implementation may be standard in public health monitoring programs, the tort of medical monitoring requires that determination to occur prior to a finding of liability. Plaintiffs were thus recommending a public health medical monitoring program rather than medical monitoring addressing tortious injuries to individuals. Plaintiffs thus merely deferred the individual issues that meant the class was not cohesive.