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Phthalate action plan draws industry fire

By Rory Harrington , 06-Jan-2010
Last updated on 06-Jan-2010 at 13:19 GMT2010-01-06T13:19:57Z

The publication of US Government action plans on how to manage risks posed by a range of controversial substances, including phthalates, has drawn stinging criticism from the chemical industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the first of its Chemical Action Plans (CAPs) late last month following a pledge by its chief, Lisa Jackson, in September to overhaul the way potentially dangerous substances are scrutinised. The EPA prioritised phthalates, which are found in some food packaging and cosmetics, as one of the first substances to be re-evaluated to ensure that proper risk management procedures were in place.

“The American people are understandably concerned about the chemicals making their way into our products, our environment and our bodies,” said Jackson as she unveiled the plans. “We will continue to use our authority under existing law to protect Americans from exposure to harmful chemicals and to highlight chemicals we believe warrant concern.”

But the American Chemistry Council (ACC) slammed the EPA saying the initial chemicals “seem to have been selected based on little more than their current high-profile nature” rather than scientific data relating to the dangers and risks posed by the substances.

EPA action plan

The EPA said it had earmarked phthalates because of concern over their “toxicity and the evidence of pervasive and environmental exposure to them”. Some 470m pounds (214m kg) are produced annually and they are mainly used as plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products. Concerns over the phthalates centre on their adverse effects to human health – particularly regarding damage to the male reproductive system.

The body said scientific evidence suggested humans were exposed to phthalates from numerous sources - with food and cosmetics highlighted as the most prominent. Other major sources included consumer products (other than toys) and toys.

The agency has highlighted eight phthalates and said it intends to launch measures to address the “manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce and/or use” of them. It said it would add all the eight phthalates to risk list under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by late 2010. The agency also unveiled plans to “lay groundwork to consider initiating in 2012 rulemaking” under TSCA. In the meantime, it would consult and co-operate with bodies including the Food and Drug Administration to fully weigh up the use, exposure and substitute for phthalates.

To read the full EPA action plan on phthalates click here

ACC response

The ACC expressed its disappointment and said the agency should concentrate on evidence-based risk rather than the chemical's public profile in choosing which substances to regulate further.

“In exercising its authority under TSCA, EPA should prioritize chemicals for the CAP program based on scientific criteria that reflect available hazard, use and exposure information provided to the agency”, said the body’s president and CEO Cal Dooley.

He also accused the EPA of a lack of transparency over its choice of substances before the publication of the plans and called on the agency to review all scientific studies – even those that may have a different conclusion to ones it had previously considered.

The ACC said it was concerned about the “EPA’s criteria for suggesting that the agency may consider the need for further restrictions” on phthalates .It added the chemicals had already been subject to “numerous government safety assessments”.

“While the action plan notes that phthalates are generally detected in biomonitoring data collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), EPA fails to note that exposure to phthalates in the general public indicated by the CDC data are below—in most cases, well below—safety limits established by the EPA and the European Union”, said the trade body.

The other three CAPs issued by the EPA were on long-chain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in products and short-chain chlorinated paraffins. The EPA is currently preparing a CAP on bisphenol A (BPA) - used in polycarbonate baby bottles and the epoxy resin lining of food cans.

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