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2015 outlook: James Jones, US EPA

As I begin my fourth full year as Assistant Administrator for chemical safety, my highest priority is to continue building on the progress that we’ve made in the last few years. When I started in this job, it was clear, despite the widely acknowledged shortcomings of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), we needed to stand up a credible existing chemicals programme. “Existing chemicals” are those that were already in commerce when TSCA was enacted in the 1970s, and were allowed to remain so without further evaluation, except in unusual cases. 

We have already taken a number of actions to address existing chemicals. One key initiative that has been building momentum in the past few years is the TSCA Workplan for Chemical Assessments. In 2014, the EPA released final assessments on certain uses of four chemicals on the TSCA Workplan. The assessments for several uses of trichloroethylene (TCE) and methylene chloride (DCM) showed risk to consumers and workers. In 2015, EPA will begin taking action to mitigate these risks. EPA will first try and negotiate voluntary risk reduction measures with chemicals’ manufacturers. If these negotiations are unsuccessful, it will move forward with regulatory risk management under TSCA section 6, something which the agency has not done in more than 28 years. 

In addition to risk reduction on chemicals which assessments have been completed, we will continue work on those for other chemicals on the TSCA Workplan. For 2015, these include:

  • N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in paint stripper products;
  • three clusters of related chemicals, used as flame retardants;
  • several uses of 1-Bromopropane (1-BP); including occupational uses of 1-BP in dry-cleaning and foam gluing operations, consumer uses in aerosol solvent cleaners and spray adhesives;
  • 1,4-Dioxane; and
  • long- and medium-chained chlorinated paraffins used as metal working and compounding agents and its effects on ecological receptors.

Also this year, the EPA will be revealing a redesigned logo for the Design for the Environment (DfE) safer product labelling programme. The programme helps consumers, businesses and institutional buyers identify cleaning and other products that perform well and are safer for human health and the environment. To carry the label, every ingredient in a product must meet stringent human health, environmental and performance criteria. In 2014, we conducted an outreach and information gathering effort, speaking to current DfE partner companies, numerous groups of stakeholders and the general public. The choice of logo will use the feedback gathered, as well as drawing on market research. The aim is to better convey the programme’s mission of promoting safer products; increase its consumer recognition; and communicate to consumers the human health and environmental benefits of choosing safer products. We expect to reveal the new logo to the public in the next few months and to display it on products in the second half of the year.

On the regulatory front, we will finalise a rule regulating formaldehyde emissions in composite wood products. This will make national the requirements currently in place in California. We will also make a determination as to whether renovations in commercial and public buildings create a hazard from lead-based paint. If so, we will propose a regulatory approach, as required by statute. Finally, we intend to propose modifying existing use authorisations for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in several contexts in late 2015 or early 2016.  I also expect 2015 to be a turning point for our green chemistry programme, as we work to identify barriers to adoption of greener chemistries, as well as to incentivise the use of these technologies. 

We have also made progress in making health and safety data, and information on chemicals that the agency has collected under TSCA more accessible to interested parties and the general public. In 2013, we launched ChemView, a web-based tool which allows easy access to thousands of documents, including hazard characterisations, alternative assessments, test data submitted to the EPA, and TSCA regulatory actions. Since ChemView’s release, the agency has continued to add more information to the database, in addition to refining and enhancing the application’s functionality. This work, on adding more information and creating a more robust and useful system, will continue in 2015.

Also in 2015, we will be conducting a pilot programme for the purpose of further refining the Draft Guidelines for Environmental Performance Standards & Ecolabels that were released in 2013. The goal of the guidelines is to establish a process for recognising non-governmental environmental standards for use in federal procurement. Under the pilot, the EPA will contract with an organisation(s) to convene several groups, including a Governance Committee and stakeholder panels. The groups will develop and pilot test an approach to implement the Draft Guidelines in a few sectors, including building paints/coatings/removers, building flooring and furniture. 

The views expressed in contributed articles are those of the expert authors and are not necessarily shared by Chemical Watch.

James Jones, assistant administrator, Office of Chemicals Safety and pollution Prevention

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