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US chemicals industry prepares for increased TSCA oversight

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The US chemicals industry is preparing for increased Congressional oversight of TSCA in the coming year, Chemical Watch has learned. And, in recent interviews with industry representatives, it is clear a number of other policy priorities are rising to the surface.

The American Chemistry Council and speciality chemicals group Socma both said that they are expecting a significant uptick in oversight efforts, with the Democrats having retaken control of the US House of Representatives for the first time since the law’s 2016 update.

In recent months several Democrats have joined a vocal NGO community in criticising implementation of amendments to the law under the current administration. This is likely to result in increased Congressional focus on such aspects of TSCA as the EPA’s interpretation of what constitutes a substance’s ‘conditions of use’ under the law, as well as the agency’s use of discretionary authorities to act on specific substances, like methylene chloride and trichloroethylene (TCE).

Socma’s vice president of legal and governmental relations, Robert Helminiak, said there are positives and negatives to this increased focus on TSCA. The new chemicals programme remains a "major struggle", he said, which is something Congress could potentially help with – as could the fresh leadership of Alexandra Dunn, who was recently confirmed to head up the agency’s chemicals office.

The speciality chemicals group also sees an opportunity to change the course of the new chemicals programme through the updates slated for the EPA’s decision-making framework. A recent letter from acting administrator Andrew Wheeler signalled that such updates are in the works for this year.

Meanwhile, industry is closely watching the first ten risk evaluations under the reformed TSCA – which must be finalised by December – and the prioritisation of the next 20 high-priority substances, which will represent the next batch subject to assessment.

Looming large over all of these TSCA-related activities, however, is the government shutdown, which has gone on for over a month. Concerns abound about what the delays will mean for an already-high backlog of new substance reviews and for the EPA meeting its statutory deadlines later this year.

Additional issues

Beyond TSCA, other issues active in 2018 are expected to continue into the new year. PFASs, for example, are likely to remain prominent in 2019 at both the state and federal level.

The ACC said it supports a range of policy actions in this area, and that it plans to continue advancing "appropriate regulations and industry stewardship activities". This includes urging the EPA to "adopt a robust management plan that is responsive to the issues identified through EPA’s PFAS Leadership Summit and the follow-up listening sessions held around the country."

But it also is pressing for regulators to recognise that PFASs cover a broad range of substances with different characteristics and uses. "It is vital that regulators utilise sound science when evaluating and establishing standards for both legacy substances and new PFAS technologies," it added.

State-level efforts around chemicals are also featuring prominently on industry’s agenda. Efforts to ban or restrict substances in products, or to require ingredient disclosure, are strongly expected to carry on.

Meanwhile, trade agreements – and the opportunity to seek better regulatory alignment through them – are also top of mind for industry groups.

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