As regulators focus their attention on chemicals of emerging concern, also known as contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), organizations across the chemical industry are facing an uncertain and rapidly evolving regulatory environment.
A Journal of Hazardous Materials report found that about 40,000 compounds with CEC potential have been identified, with six more being added each day. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has expressed concerns that when CECs seep into the water supply, they release endocrine disruptors that can alter normal hormone functions. CECs include many chemicals that we use in our everyday lives, such as prescription and non-prescription medications, soaps, and food preservatives. Public concern and pressure to regulate continue to grow, and as a result, regulators are placing CECs in the spotlight, which means that companies need a strategy to monitor and respond to a fast-changing regulatory landscape.
A Changing Approach to Regulation
At the federal level, the EPA currently regulates 94 chemicals under the Safe Water Drinking Act, including CECs like perchlorate, pharmaceuticals, Phencyclidine (PCPs), and Endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDCs). A contaminant candidate list, published in November 2016, has identified 109 additional compounds of federal interest. The EPA has moved relatively slowly to establish new regulations, with only nine contaminants and contaminant groups added to the Safe Water Drinking Act list over the past 20 years.
Regulatory activity is ramping up, however. In 2016, Congress passed reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), expanding the EPA’s authority to obtain testing information from manufacturers on existing chemicals. About 86,000 chemical substances are currently registered for commercial use under TSCA, giving the EPA wide latitude to investigate and regulate a number of compounds critical to operations for businesses across the spectrum.
Meanwhile, states are moving forward with a patchwork of their own regulations. For example, New Jersey recently adopted regulations around maximum levels of the chemical 1,2,3-TCP in drinking water, making it one of three states to enact this level of stringent regulation on drinking water.
Organizations that fail to monitor and correct violations face potentially steep regulatory penalties. The TSCA dictates that chemical manufacturers, importers, processors, and distributors must follow “substantial risk” information reporting provisions, which could include detection of CECs in drinking water. In 2004, DuPont agreed to a settlement that required them to pay more than$10 million because of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOAs) near its West Virginia plant.
For the regulated community, keeping up with these changes poses numerous challenges. Regulation is preceding science in many cases. The traditional approach to set specific numeric criteria is being applied to chemicals. In many cases scientific data on the chemical’s health effects are still unknown and regulatory steps may be premature. This dynamic creates concern for the public and uncertainty for the business community.
Staying Ahead of CEC Regulations
Combining a proactive approach with the correct tools can help the chemical industry avoid the potential pitfalls of rapidly changing CEC regulation. Here’s where to start:
- Audit current business practices. With 86,000 chemicals sanctioned for commercial use, understand which ones your facilities are using and which might be subject to scrutiny.
- Develop a strategy for monitoring news and regulations. Resources like curated news feeds let you filter activity based on your industry, location, and other key factors to get an instant snapshot of what needs your attention, while tracking tools help make sure the right changes happen in your workplace when new regulations are promulgated or changed.
- Ask an expert. Don’t guess at what the latest regulations mean for your business. Gain assurance from subject matter experts and develop an achievable roadmap for staying compliant.
- Involve your team. Ensure that employees understand regulatory obligations and the implications of non-compliance. Invest in training and ongoing monitoring to make sure you stay on the right side of the law.
With CECs continuing to draw the attention of government officials and the public, chemical companies need a solid plan to stay on the right side of regulations. Armed with up-to-date insights, stakeholders and other decision-makers can recognize the implications of CEC regulations, follow rapidly changing developments and make informed business decisions.
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