EPA plans to limit TSCA CBI protections.

This summer, EPA published a proposal to modify regulations governing significant new uses of chemical substances (SNUR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that could significantly impact protections for Confidential Business Information (CBI).  The proposed rule would modify the bona fide intent procedures in 40 CFR 721.11 to allow EPA to disclose the confidential significant new use designations to a manufacturer or processor who has established a bona fide intent to manufacture (including import) or process a chemical substance. Specifically, the proposed regulatory language redefines the scope of “confidential business information” to exclude new use designations. Industry groups voiced their concerns with the proposal in comments submitted to the Agency last month. Some comments urged EPA to withdraw the proposal and re-propose it in conformity with the disclosure authorized by the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Act).

Section 14 of the Lautenberg Act prohibits the disclosure of “information that is exempt from disclosure pursuant to subsection (a) of section 552 of title 5, United States Code,” the Public Information Section of the Administrative Procedure Chapter of this Title. The provision explicitly provides that this protection extends to “processes used in the manufacturing or processing of a chemical substance or mixture.” Several commenters stressed that it appears that the proposed regulation goes beyond what the statute allows.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) noted in its comments that EPA needs only to respond to the bona fide intent requestor with a “yes” or “no” to address whether the proposed use of the SNUR substance is a new use. Therefore, the ACC stressed, the proposed amendment to 40 CFR 721.11 would disclose more confidential information than is necessary to answer the requestor’s question. Other comments, from the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, argue that the Agency’s plans to disclose this information would create an anticompetitive environment by giving an advantage to those who submit bona fide intent notices.

In their comments, these industry groups also recommended EPA expand the SNUR CBI provision to impose additional requirements on both the Agency and chemical manufacturers. The ACC asserted that EPA should be required to inform the original PMN submitter when it discloses any confidential information to a requestor similar to the existing provision regarding the Confidential Inventory (40 CFR 720.25(b)(6)). Another set of comments, from the American Petroleum Institute, suggested that the Agency use consent order and SNUR requirements to compel manufacturers to inform downstream customers of all potentially applicable compliance requirements related to a substance.

The proposed amendments to the SNUR CBI provisions could affect EPA’s treatment of CBI under TSCA more generally. The Lautenberg Act requires manufacturers and importers to reassert CBI claims during the Inventory Reset process. The proposal for that process may also attempt to limit CBI protections.

EPA and FDA announce data sharing agreement for CBI.

Today, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to share data on pesticides and toxic substances. According to a notice published last month in the Federal Register, in response to the FDA’s spring 2014 request, EPA will grant FDA access to information collected under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), including information claimed by submitters as Confidential Business Information (CBI). This data-sharing initiative “is intended to maximize the utility of data collected under those statutes, and enhance the efficiency of the participants’ regulatory processes and facilitate better risk management activities.” The MOU applies specifically to EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and FDA’s Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and Center for Veterinary Medicine.

FDA and EPA “have complementary roles” regulating substances incorporated into food (including animal feed), animal drugs, and cosmetics. Antimicrobial food wash products, for example, must meet different standards for safety and non-adulteration of food (FDA), and no adverse environmental effects (EPA).

The MOU covers the sharing of non-public information exempt from public disclosure, including CBI and “confidential commercial information” (CCI). Information will be shared “on a reciprocal and as-needed basis” for substances that may be present in human food, animal food and feed, animal drugs, and cosmetics. The MOU provides that each agency will develop internal procedures and designate liaison officers for the information-sharing exchanges and to protect against unauthorized disclosure of CBI or CCI. Appendices to the MOU establish a framework process for information sharing, including specific language to be used in requesting information or responding to a request.

The MOU does not specify any limits as to programmatic uses for shared information. The disclosure of non-public information remains governed by applicable laws and regulations, and non-public information may not be disclosed further or shared with personnel at the other agency that have not been authorized to access non-public information. If EPA requests information from FDA identified as a trade secret, FDA will assess whether the information is in fact trade secret. TSCA/FIFRA-designated CBI requested by FDA will have to be returned to EPA or destroyed when no longer needed. Either agency may choose not to share requested information, or may choose to limit the scope of information provided in response to a request. The agencies may also protect information “in connection with research that has not been peer reviewed.”

U.S. chemical industry opposes fracking disclosure rules.

Trade groups representing the U.S. chemical industry are urging EPA not to adopt rules requiring the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and mixtures. The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) both filed comments in September responding to EPA’s May 19, 2014 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. That notice announced that the agency was “initiating a public participation process to seek comment on the information that should be reported or disclosed for hydraulic fracturing chemical substances and mixtures and the mechanism for obtaining this information.” EPA’s filing was made in response to a section 21 citizen petition under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and suggested that the contemplated reporting mechanism could be authorized under TSCA §§ 8(a) or 8(d), voluntary, or a combination of both, and “could include best management practices, third-party certification and collection, and incentives for disclosure.”

Both groups argue that mandating disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and mixtures could reveal trade secrets. In its comments, the ACC wrote that EPA should first finalize its ongoing hydraulic fracturing study, and that voluntary programs “have worked well in the past” and state level regulation is more appropriate than federal. SOCMA proposed “the use of structurally descriptive generic names if a specific name would potentially reveal a trade secret” along with better information collection via EPA’s enhanced Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) in combination with the industry’s voluntary chemical registry, FracFocus.

Environmental groups increase pressure on EPA to release TSCA CBI rules.

Following the August 21 filing of a petition by a coalition of health, environmental and labor NGOs, EPA is under increased pressure to release its much-anticipated proposed rule on Confidential Business Information (CBI) under Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Represented by Earthjustice, the coalition – whose members include the Environmental Defense Fund, BlueGreen Alliance, and Breast Cancer Fund – is petitioning EPA to propose rules to (1) automatically sunset “affirmative CBI determinations” after five years and (2) establish procedures for “reassertion” of CBI claims.

The rules sought by the Earthjustice coalition are the same ones that the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has urged the agency to adopt. Last spring, EPA told the OIG that a proposed CBI rule would be released by September 30, 2014, although the same rule was previously slated for release in spring 2014 and then August 2014. The proposed rule is expected to set time limits with automatic expiration dates and establish reassertion and re-substantiation requirements.

The coalition’s petition was filed under a general provision of the Administrative Procedure Act – rather than the citizens’ petitions provision in TSCA – meaning that the EPA must only respond “within a reasonable time.” Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelmann Lado told Chemical Watch that the coalition “wanted the clock ticking to actually finalize a rule and get it out the door.” The petition is available to read online [PDF].

New proposed rule on TSCA CBI claims expected in fall 2014.

EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) will release its long-awaited proposed rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) regarding Confidential Business Information (CBI) by September 30 this year. Chemical Watch has flagged a recently released Office of Inspector General (OIG) report [PDF] that compiles and provides status updates on the many OIG recommendations that EPA has not yet implemented. The semiannual report includes recommendations stemming from a 2010 OIG report on EPA’s New Chemicals Program which found that the agency “does not have integrated procedures and measures in place to ensure that new chemicals entering commerce do not pose an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment.”

Specifically, OIG advised that OCSPP develop a “more detailed [TSCA CBI] classification guide that provides criteria for approving CBI coverage and establishes a time limit for all” CBI claims in order to permit “eventual” public access to chemical health and safety data. EPA originally agreed to implement OIG’s recommendation by proposing a rule establishing sunset provisions for CBI claims by January 31, 2012. According to the report, OCSPP informed OIG in January 2013 that the rule would be delayed because “senior management discussions” led to the decision to make a “more complex and comprehensive rule.” Last fall, the regulatory agenda released by the Office of Management and Budget CBI pegged the rule’s release for this spring.

In addition to the CBI rule, the OIG’s 2010 report on the New Chemicals Program recommended the establishment of “criteria and procedures outlining what chemicals or classes of chemicals will undergo risk assessments for low-level and cumulative exposure,” as well as updating and revising risk assessment tools and models to keep up with the latest science. OCSPP had agreed to conduct cumulative assessments of eight phthalates and EPA had agreed to consider rulemaking under TSCA § 6(a) for them by December 2012. However, the agency’s progress has been stymied by a long-delayed report on phthalates alternatives from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Food and Drug Administration, the data from which EPA is relying on to complete its own assessments. OCSPP also agreed to implement guidance on cumulative exposure assessments by February 28, 2013, but EPA has yet to issue it. This guidance was planned for release in 2012; OCSPP now plans to implement it by December 31, 2014.

OIG also recommended that EPA make improvements in information security, including assessing the security controls on OCSPP’s online TSCA system. This assessment was to have been verified by September 6, 2013 but will not be considered past due by OIG until September 6, 2014.

Changes for TSCA CBI claims on the horizon.

According to the OMB’s regulatory agenda, EPA is planning to issue a proposed rule on confidential business information (CBI) claims under TSCA.  The proposed rule, which is expected to be released in spring 2014, would require companies making CBI claims to reassert and re-substantiate those claims on a periodic basis. EPA’s intent in proposing the new regulation is to increase transparency and the availability of environmental and health effects information for existing chemicals in the marketplace.

Details about the proposed rule are not yet available, but ChemicalWatch identified two critical issues that will need to be addressed: (1) whether CBI claims will be evaluated immediately and (2) whether individual chemicals must be disclosed. According to ChemicalWatch, stakeholders expect that CBI claims would stand for five years before review and renewal is required.

The future of CBI claims may be further complicated by current legislative efforts to reform TSCA. The Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), the TSCA modernization bill currently before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, contains complex CBI provisions which have been criticized by NGOs as overly burdensome for EPA’s resources.

It is also unclear how the new CBI rule would affect EPA’s voluntary CBI Declassification Challenge. In December, Bloomberg discussed the state of the CBI Declassification Challenge with Jim Jones, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention. Through this initiative, EPA has determined that over half of the 22,000 CBI claims the agency had thought were submitted by chemical companies were in fact never made. The inflated number was due to a newly identified problem in EPA’s tracking system. Of the remaining claims, 909 cases have been declassified, 3,349 claims have been assessed as valid, and EPA is still investigating the last 7,000 claims.

California's new SCP law may threaten trade secrets.

Under California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) Safer Consumer Products (SCP) program, discussed last week, manufacturers may be required to publicly disclose the ingredients of those products that contain one or more chemicals deemed hazardous by the DTSC.

The regulations require DTSC to evaluate a list of Candidate Chemicals for development of an initial “Priority Products” list. (See overview [PDF]). If manufacturers of products on the Priority Products list choose not to remove the relevant chemicals, they will be required to disclose all product ingredients in an Alternatives Analysis (AA) report. The AA reports will include:

  • the quantities of chemicals of concern used;
  • the function of these chemicals and rationale behind their use;
  • the brand and product names under which a product containing a chemical is sold or used;
  • the identities of both the manufacturer and importer; potential adverse impacts associated with the product;
  • disposal and handling requirements; and
  • possible alternative chemicals the company has considered using.

DTSC will post these reports online and email them to interested parties for public review and comment. The state will also publicly announce notices of ongoing review, compliance, deficiency and disapproval.

The disclosure requirements may present potential hurdles to companies seeking to comply with the SCP regulations. First, companies that may not know the complete chemical make-up of their product ingredients will have to research their suppliers to gather more detailed information on their supply chains. Given the size of California’s economy, its product regulations could greatly affect global supply chains beyond state borders; if companies marketing products in California choose to reformulate their products in response to the SCP program, the impact will likely be felt throughout the country. Second, protecting confidential business information (CBI) might also complicate disclosure because, although some ingredients may be redacted if they are considered trade secrets, DTSC is entitled to deny such claims under certain circumstances.

Companies seeking to comply with the new rules may benefit from reviewing and documenting their strategies to protect trade secrets. Certain documentation is required by DTSC to substantiate trade secret claims. Companies may want to consider seeking patent protection for new products, new formulations of existing products, or new manufacturing methods. There may also be additional limited opportunities to obtain patents for existing products under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.

EPA Assistant Administrator Steve Owens Resigns

EPA Administration/Chemical Regulation:

On Tuesday, October 25, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the resignation of Assistant Administrator Steve Owens.  Readers will recall that President Obama appointed Mr. Owens the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), which is the office implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the Pollution Prevention Act, and other federal laws concerning chemicals management.  November 30, 2011, will be Mr. Owens’ last day in office before returning home to Arizona where he previously served as the Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.  It is unclear at this time who will assume Mr. Owen’s responsibilities and what effect his departure will have on EPA’s various chemicals management initiatives.

Mr. Owens served the EPA during a two-year period in which Congress, the courts, and various stakeholders engaged in vigorous debate and litigation over the appropriate regulation of chemicals in the United States.  In a 2010 brown-bag session (available on podcast), sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Pesticides, Chemical Regulation, and Right-to-Know Committee, Mr. Owens discussed many of the initiatives the Agency was undertaking and some of the challenges it faced as it participated and attempted to shape the debate. 

In a letter to EPA staff announcing his resignation, Mr. Owens said:

“I am writing to tell you that, after more than two years of working closely with all of you to protect Americans’ health and environment, I have made the difficult decision to leave EPA. My last day in the office will be November 30, 2011.
 
As many of you know, my family has remained in Arizona while I have been working at EPA headquarters in Washington. Although I have been able to get home to see my family periodically, I have essentially been away from them for more than two years. After a lot of hard thinking, we have decided that it is time for me to come home. My wife needs her husband; my sons need their father; and I need them.
 
While I am very happy that I will be back with my family, I will miss all of you greatly. It has been a true privilege to work with so many incredibly talented and dedicated people who are doing so much to protect the health and safety of the American people and our environment.
 
I am extremely grateful to Lisa Jackson for her wonderful friendship and the remarkable vision and leadership she provides to this Agency. We are truly fortunate that she is EPA’s Administrator.
 
As I said earlier, I will continue working alongside you all through November 30. Administrator Jackson will share additional information about the transition process shortly.
 
In closing, let me thank you so much for the friendship and support you have given me during my time at EPA. Please know how much I appreciate you and all that you are doing for our country.”

 

EPA Publicly Discloses More Chemical Identities Claimed Confidential under TSCA

TSCA/CBI:

On June 8, 2011, EPA announced the public disclosure of the identities of more than 150 chemicals contained in 104 health and safety studies that had been claimed confidential under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  For those 104 studies, the chemical identity will no longer be redacted, or kept from public view.  According to EPA, the chemicals at issue are used in dispersant formulations and consumer products such as air fresheners, non-stick and stain resistant materials, fire resistant materials, nonylphenol compounds, perfluorinated compounds, and lead.  This latest development is another demonstration of EPA’s commitment to increasing transparency under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by making publicly available more information about chemical hazards.

Readers will recall that, in 2010, EPA challenged industry to declassify voluntarily unwarranted claims of confidential business information (CBI).  EPA also issued new guidance outlining plans to deny CBI claims for chemical identity in health and safety studies under TSCA.  Based on this guidance, EPA notified a number of companies in February 2011 that it had determined that their CBI claims were not eligible for confidential treatment under TSCA and that EPA intended to make the information public.  (See related posts here and here.)   The health and safety studies included in the lastest disclosure  include some declassified by EPA and other voluntary declassifications by companies in response to EPA’s challenge.

In addition to these actions, EPA over the past several months has taken a number of other steps to make chemical information more readily available.  EPA provided the public, for the first time ever, with free access to the consolidated TSCA Inventory on the EPA and Data.Gov websites.  EPA also launched a new chemical data access tool that gives the public the ability electronically to search EPA’s database of more than 10,000 health and safety documents on a wide range of chemicals that they may come in contact with every day. (See related post here.)  More information about EPA’s transparency initiative under TSCA is avaialble here.

EPA Denies Protection for Chemical Identities in TSCA 8(e) Reports

TSCA:

As part of EPA’s initiative to increase transparency under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), on February 10, 2011, the Agency sent a letter to five companies informing them that the identities of 14 chemicals contained in certain health and safety studies were ineligible for protection from public disclosure.  The studies are “substantial risk” reports that the companies submitted to EPA to fulfill their obligations under section 8(e) of TSCA (15 U.S.C. § 2607(e)).  Readers will recall that substantial risk reports disclose information that reasonably supports the conclusion that a chemical substance or mixture (collectively “chemicals”) presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment.  EPA reasons that the public has a right to know the identities of chemicals posing such risks.  In contrast, industry frequently contends that disclosure of identities could reveal commercially valuable information about formulations or manufacturing processes.  To stop the disclosure of the identities of its chemicals, a company would need to initiate a legal challenge within 30 days of receiving the Agency’s February letter.

The letters comprise the Agency’s first serious attempt to implement a new transparency policy announced on January 21, 2010.  (The scope of the policy was subsequently expanded in May 2010.)  As announced in January, EPA will deny Confidential Business Information (CBI) protection for the identities of chemicals included in section 8(e) reports when those chemicals are listed on the public version of the TSCA Inventory.  EPA contends that substantial risk reports are a type of health and safety study, as defined under section 3(6) of TSCA (15 U.S.C. § 2602(6)) and the regulations at 40 C.F.R. § 2.306(a)(3).  The Agency also asserts that a chemical’s identity is either part of a health and safety study or the data included within such study, as explained in various TSCA regulations such as those at 40 C.F.R. § 716.3; § 720.3(k).  And because section 14(b)(1) of TSCA (15 U.S.C. § 2613(b)(1)) “does not prohibit disclosure of” health and safety studies (and their data) concerning chemicals offered for commercial distribution, EPA concludes that a chemical’s identity would be eligible for disclosure when it is listed on the public version of the TSCA Inventory and it is the subject of a substantial risk report.

According to EPA’s letter, the chemicals fit squarely within the Agency’s policy.  Each of the chemicals is currently listed on the public version of the TSCA Inventory of “existing” substances.  (The Inventory is EPA’s official list of chemicals that can be lawfully imported or manufactured for commercial distribution without first submitting a premanufacture notice under section 5 of TSCA – the public version lists those chemicals whose identities are not confidential.)  And each of them supposedly was the subject of a substantial risk report.

However, section 14(b)(1) prohibits disclosure of data from health and safety studies when such disclosure would reveal “processes used in the manufacturing or processing of a chemical substance or mixture or, in the case of a mixture, the release [would disclose] the portion of the mixture comprised by any of the chemical substances in the mixture.”  These exceptions are designed to prevent the disclosure of trade secrets and other sensitive business information.  EPA’s letter seems to anticipate this objection from the companies, noting “that the [chemical] identity itself, as well as any information that might be derived from it about processes or portions, has already been disclosed” and therefore neither exception applies.

Whether the companies will seek judicial review remains to be seen.  Many challenged CBI claims are withdrawn, and judicial review is expensive.  If the companies seek judicial review, they may challenge EPA’s statutory interpretion or its conclusion that neither disclosure exception applies.  (If a challenge(s) is brought, look for a future blog post discussing the various arguments.)

Regardless of whether there’s a challenge, the Agency’s decision is somewhat controversial – applauded by some and criticized by others.  Unless there’s a successful legal challenge or some other restraint imposed, look for EPA’s continued release of unredacted substantial risk reports and possibly other health and safety studies.  The Agency has clearly signalled its intention to increase the amount of publicly-available information concerning chemical risks.  When balancing commercial interests against environmental and health interests, EPA’s current administration plans to favor the latter at the expense of the former, raising the question:  “Could a better balance be achieved?”  Perhaps – EPA could release the reports with a descriptive generic name in lieu of the chemical’s specific name, a practice the Agency’s used elsewhere under TSCA.