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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.

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Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act: Reducing Toxic Waste and Saving Money

By Rachel Massey
With contributions from Rick Reibstein, Policy Analyst, Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance and Adjunct Professor, Environmental Law and Policy, Boston University

Introduction                                                                  

A number of states have been in the forefront of developing chemicals policy in the US. The states have taken the lead in regulating toxic chemicals in manufacturing and in products, and have served as the “laboratories of democracy” where a variety of policy approaches have been tested.

The proposed Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) includes language that would preempt state regulation of chemicals in many cases. Preempting state-level regulation would weaken the ability of states to protect their citizens and could cripple some of the country’s most successful centers of chemicals policy innovation.

Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act: Overview

The Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) has applied flexible regulation to bring about the reduction of hundreds of millions of pounds of toxics use in the state while saving regulated businesses money and prompting industrial innovation.

TURA, which has been in effect since 1990, requires large-quantity chemical users to report annually on their use of toxic chemicals, pay an annual fee, and conduct toxics use reduction planning every two years. The program is implemented collaboratively by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance and Technology (OTA), and the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI). Together, the three agencies provide a range of services, including training, grants, and technical assistance, to help companies reduce their use of toxic chemicals.

The program has achieved dramatic results. Over the first ten years, from 1990 to 2000, Massachusetts companies subject to TURA reduced toxic chemical use by 40% and on-site releases by 90%. Over the next ten years, from 2000 to 2010, Massachusetts companies reduced toxic chemical use by 22% and on-site releases by 65%. These figures are production-adjusted, meaning that they represent true improvements in the efficiency with which companies use toxic chemicals per unit of product.

The TURA program recently completed a review of 20 years of data on Massachusetts companies’ use of chemicals that cause cancer. The report found that Massachusetts companies subject to TURA have reduced their use of carcinogens by nearly a third, and reduced releases by 93%, over a 20 year period. (These figures are not production-adjusted.)

State-level Regulatory Action: The Example of nPB

The TURA program also takes regulatory action to address emerging hazards. For example, in 2009, TURA added n-propyl bromide (nPB) to the TURA list of Toxic or Hazardous Substances.

nPB is a solvent, used in applications such as industrial cleaning and degreasing, as well as in dry cleaning. It is minimally regulated at the federal level, and as a result, it is used increasingly as a drop-in replacement for better-regulated solvents such as trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene. In the absence of clear regulatory signals, many companies are adopting nPB as a “green” replacement for known hazards.

Unfortunately, emerging science indicates that nPB is highly hazardous. This month, the TURA Science Advisory Board has recommended that the TURA program take the additional step of designating nPB as a Higher Hazard Substance. This action would lower the threshold for reporting and planning.

In taking these regulatory steps, Massachusetts is acting far ahead of the federal government in providing clear signals to companies, and protecting workers and communities from an emerging hazard.

Reducing or Eliminating Toxic Chemicals: Examples

The TURA Program has worked with a wide variety of sectors and companies over the years. The following are a few examples.

  • The TURA program works with dry cleaners to help them eliminate the toxic chemical perchloroethylene. We provide grants and technical assistance to help cleaners convert their facilities to 100% professional wet cleaning.
  • We work with metal finishers and platers to help them reduce or eliminate the use of the carcinogen hexavalent chromium.
  • We convene supply chain work groups, bringing together a variety of companies in a supply chain to solve technical problems related to replacing a specific toxic chemical. For example, TURI convened a highly successful supply chain initiative to develop and test lead-free electronics.

This is just a small selection of recent projects. Over the more than 20 years that TURA has been in effect, companies have identified numerous opportunities for toxics use reduction as a result of the TURA reporting and planning process. Many of these companies have saved money in the process, and some credit the TURA program with keeping them in business during hard times by pushing them to identify new efficiencies and stay competitive in international markets.

Preemption

The proposed CSIA would preempt state regulation of chemicals once EPA has completed a safety determination. It would also preempt adoption of new prohibitions or restrictions for chemicals once EPA has categorized a chemical as high or low priority and, in the case of a high priority chemical, scheduled a safety assessment. In the event of a delay between categorization and agency action, states could be unable to take interim measures. Furthermore, preemption of action on chemicals designated by EPA as “low priority” could preclude states from taking a proactive approach to emerging hazards. These provisions raise questions about the extent to which TURA would be able to continue its work if CSIA were adopted as currently written.

In addition, Massachusetts would be significantly affected if chemical regulations in other states were preempted. Massachusetts works closely with other states that are working actively to regulate chemicals, and we rely on these partnerships as we provide services within Massachusetts.

For example:

  • Maine and Washington have adopted important regulations governing the use of toxic chemicals in children’s products. As a result of Washington’s disclosure requirements, we have access to new information about chemicals in consumer products.
  • California’s Proposition 65 law is an important source of authoritative information on chemicals that are reproductive or developmental toxicants.
  • Massachusetts works with other states to require disclosure of products containing intentionally added mercury, with information from multiple states submitted to a common database.

Similarly, other leading states rely on TURA. For example, TURA has provided advice on alternatives assessment as California has rolled out this component of its new regulation of chemicals in products.

Conclusion

TURA, like other successful state chemicals policy programs, goes beyond existing federal regulations. TURA works with, learns from, and provides key resources to, other state programs as well as partners at the federal level.

There is an urgent need for chemicals policy reform at the federal level. But weakening proven state programs, which have been the drivers of chemicals policy change, is likely to produce a further stagnation of chemical regulation in the US.

Comments

Loren Kramer said ..

Reduction is the simplest form of protection from toxic chemicals. It's a no-brainer!

November 13, 2013
George Frantz said ..

Interesting brief article, but lacks any background on CSIA.

November 4, 2013

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