Monday, March 19, 2012

Washington sets model for prioritizing toxic chemicals

By Joshua Grice, Reducing Toxic Threats Section, Waste 2 Resources

Photo by Myra Klarman
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently finalized its plan to identify priority chemicals under the federal Toxic Substance Control Act for further study. EPA drafted this plan in 2011 and gathered stakeholder input. Ecology is proud to be a trail blazer in prioritizing chemicals for further study, and its work is now getting nationwide attention. In its process, EPA used many of the same approaches Ecology created to develop its list of chemicals of high concern to children.

One of the greatest challenges in working on the problem caused by toxic chemicals is simply deciding where to start. According to EPA, there are more than 84,000 chemicals in commerce, 7,000 of which are produced in volumes of 25,000 pounds or more each year. Prioritizing which chemicals deserve further attention to prevent harm to our health or the environment requires careful thought.

As part of the Children’s Safe Product Act (CSPA), Ecology conducted an extensive prioritization process involving thousands of candidate chemicals. To develop this process, Ecology worked closely with the Washington Department of Health and the Northwest Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at the University of Washington.

A list of 66 chemicals of high concern to children was the end result. Manufacturers must report to Ecology if their products contain any of these 66 chemicals. Ecology staff published their approach to the first phase of this work in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and more information on later phases can be found on the CSPA website.

EPA used a two-step prioritization scheme, starting with toxic chemicals identified by authoritative sources, and “narrowed the focus of the Step 1 prioritization factor to chemicals identified as being in children’s products either through IUR reporting or through the process used by Washington State to generate its list of children’s product chemicals.”

Other similarities to Washington’s process included:
  • They removed chemicals that were already substantially regulated in other ways (like pesticides and drugs).
  • They scored the chemicals based on their hazard to human health or the environment.
  • They scored chemicals on their likelihood of exposure based on exposure, use, and release data.
  • Chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic were prioritized.
In the end, EPA identified 83 candidate chemicals, seven of which will be reviewed in 2012.

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