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US EPA plans public substance information portal

Organisation - EPA

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to launch a portal with safety-related information on substances as part of its existing chemicals management programme.

Speaking at the GlobalChem conference held near Washington DC, Jim Jones, acting administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said although the agency does not always hold full data sets on substances, it does have a substantial amount of information, including hazard and exposure information, that it will provide access to in a way that is useful to a variety of stakeholders. The information will include a range of search functions, including chemical, or chemical group, endpoints, and function or use.

Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, director of the agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, said the portal would initially contain information on around 1,000 substances, but the agency planned to expand both the number of chemicals included and its functionality over time and based on feedback.

Regarding the agency’s work plan chemical assessments, Mr Jones said that the five recently-published draft assessments would be finalised towards the end of the year, after consultation and peer review (CW 4 January 2013). He acknowledged that some of the exposure data is not “perfect”. If the final assessments recommend risk management controls, the agency will prepare section 6 actions under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). As it is 20 years since the agency last tried to use them, it will see “how clunky” they are, he said.

The two remaining 2012 assessments are expected to be published shortly. Mr Jones said they had been “a bit trickier” as they dealt with assessment of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) endpoints.

In the next couple of weeks, the agency will announce the next batch of 18 work plan chemicals for assessment. The effort includes the review of three flame retardants which have robust data sets. However, Mr Jones says the agency plans to review a total of 22 structurally-related flame retardants in an effort to take a holistic approach. Most of these substances do not have robust data sets, he said, but they are being used as potential substitutes, and some assessments could be problematic and take some time to complete. If the agency uses structure activity related (SAR) approaches, it is likely to generate negative assessments; it could treat the substances as new, but he suggested industry would not like that. He called on industry to try to provide any data it had on the substances, including seeking data used in REACH registration dossiers.

Following the recent Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) exercise (CW 12 February 2013), the agency will revise the work plan chemicals list, said Mr Jones, removing substances that appear not to be in commerce, and adding others.

Noting that the agency’s existing chemicals activities are assessing only a handful of chemicals, whereas the CDR exercise showed there were over 7,600 chemicals in commerce, Mr Jones said the agency’s work only “occupied a small fraction of the chemical space”, and he urged companies to conduct their own assessments using publicly-available data.

He also questioned how consumers operated “in this space”, noting that while the agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) programme had been successful in the area of public procurement, it had little impact on consumers – as it was originally designed to do. While the criteria for chemicals assessed under the programme will remain the same, the name and logo will be changed to speak more directly to consumers.

The aim is to give consumers a tool to make informed choices, said Mr Jones. He added that the agency has compiled a list of the substances used in DfE-approved products. There are several hundred substances on the list, but he pointed out that many substances in commerce might meet the criteria, and he called on companies to submit more chemicals to the list.

Emma Chynoweth at GlobalChem

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