By Lynn L. Bergeson , Lisa M. Campbell, and Carla N. Hutton
Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, wrote to Amazon Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chair Jeff Bezos on October 7, 2020, requesting that he launch an investigation into the safety of Amazon’s product line, AmazonBasics, and answer a series of questions pertaining to the company’s product safety and recall practices. The Committee’s October 7, 2020, press release notes that the request comes after a CNN investigation found that many of AmazonBasics’ electronic products “have exploded, caught fire, sparked, melted, or otherwise created hazardous situations at rates well above comparable products.” According to the press release, many of these products were never recalled and continue to be sold.
In addition to their request that Bezos initiate an investigation into the safety of AmazonBasics products, Pallone and Schakowsky also seek answers to a series of questions, including:
- What Amazon-owned products are no longer for sale due at least in part to safety concerns?
- What products -- both Amazon-owned and third party -- have been officially recalled?
- What notification does Amazon provide to customers who have purchased products that are later recalled or found to be unsafe?
- In addition to direct notification, what other kinds of consumer or public outreach does Amazon conduct to ensure consumers properly dispose of, repair, or replace an unsafe product?
- How can consumers find information regarding recalled products? If information is not readily available, why not, and what plans exist to make it available?
- How can consumers report product safety issues to Amazon?
- How many staff does Amazon have devoted to ensuring that products sold on its platform follow all applicable laws and regulations, and that Amazon is in compliance with obligations to notify the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) when a product is suspected of being unsafe?
The letter requests a response no later than October 21, 2020.
The letter and request for answers to the questions noted above are another indication of the pressure certain Members in Congress are putting on Amazon to ensure the safety of the products the platform hosts. Amazon is under increasing scrutiny by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in this regard, as reported in our February 16, 2018, and June 17, 2020, blog items, and this Congressional inquiry seems more of the same. These efforts will almost certainly cause more pressure on product manufacturers to ensure the products they offer for sale on Amazon are compliant.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
On July 16, 2020, a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGO) filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final risk evaluation for methylene chloride. The NGOs seek review of EPA’s determination “that the chemical methylene chloride does not present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment under certain conditions of use” and its decision not to consider “certain uses and pathways through which members of Petitioners are exposed and face risks of exposure to methylene chloride.” The coalition includes the Neighbors for Environmental Justice; the New Jersey Work Environment Council; Sierra Club; the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO; and the Natural Resources Defense Council. According to Earthjustice’s July 16, 2020, press release, the NGOs “represent workers who manufacture and use methylene chloride and communities that are exposed to methylene chloride from their air and water.”
As reported in our June 25, 2020, memorandum, “Final Risk Evaluation for Methylene Chloride Is First Completed under Lautenberg Act Amendments,” after evaluating 53 conditions of use of methylene chloride, EPA determined that 47 conditions of use present an unreasonable risk of injury to health, while six do not present an unreasonable risk. EPA also determined that methylene chloride does not present an unreasonable risk to the environment under any conditions of use. Release of a final risk evaluation is the last step in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Section 6(b) process and will guide EPA’s efforts in applying Section 6(a) to reduce human exposure to methylene chloride “so that the chemical . . . no longer presents such risk.” EPA “will now begin the process of developing ways to address the unreasonable risks identified and has up to one year to propose and take public comments on any risk management actions.” EPA could prohibit or limit the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal of methylene chloride. Any regulatory action will include opportunities for public comment.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology will hold a hearing on “Benign by Design: Innovations in Sustainable Chemistry” on July 25, 2019. Witnesses will include:
- Dr. Tim Persons, Chief Scientist and Managing Director, Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO);
- Dr. John Warner, President and Chief Technology Officer, Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry;
- Dr. Julie Zimmerman, Professor and Senior Associate Dean, School of Forestry and Environmental Studiesa and Deputy Director, Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, Yale University;
- Ms. Anne Kolton, Executive Vice President, Communications, Sustainability, and Market Outreach, American Chemistry Council; and
- Mr. Mitchell Toomey, Director of Sustainability, BASF in North America.
By Lynn L. Bergeson, Charles M. Auer, and Carla N. Hutton
On March 27, 2019, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight and Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing on “EPA’s IRIS Program: Reviewing its Progress and Roadblocks Ahead.” The hearing focused on issues with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program, as described in two recent reports issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Chemical Assessments: Status of EPA’s Efforts to Produce Assessments and Implement the Toxic Substances Control Act (Chemical Assessments Report) and High-Risk Series: Substantial Efforts Needed to Achieve Greater Progress on High-Risk Areas (High-Risk Report). Please see our full memorandum for more information on what transpired at the hearing, including some background and commentary.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham, M.S.
On March 15, 2019, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a final rule prohibiting the manufacture (including import), processing, and distribution in commerce of methylene chloride for consumer paint and coating removal, including distribution to and by retailers; requiring manufacturers (including importers), processors, and distributors, except for retailers, of methylene chloride for any use to provide downstream notification of these prohibitions; and requiring recordkeeping. The rule states that EPA has determined that “the use of methylene chloride in consumer paint and coating removal presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health due to acute human lethality.” This final rule does not prohibit the use of methylene chloride in commercial paint and coating removal, however. EPA is instead soliciting comment, through an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) also signed by Administrator Wheeler on March 15, 2019, on questions related to a potential training, certification, and limited access program as an option for risk management for all of the commercial uses of methylene chloride in paint and coating removal. More information will be available on these issuances in a forthcoming memorandum to be available on our Regulatory Developments webpage.
By Lynn L. Bergeson, Charles M. Auer, and Margaret R. Graham
On January 14, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, the Vermont Public Interest Group; Safer Chemicals, Health Families; and two individuals (plaintiffs) followed up on their earlier notice of intent to sue and filed a complaint against Andrew Wheeler and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to compel EPA to perform its “mandatory duty” to “address the serious and imminent threat to human health presented by paint removal products containing methylene chloride.” Plaintiffs bring the action under Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Section 20(a) which states that “any person may commence a civil action … against the Administrator to compel the Administrator to perform any act or duty under this Act which is not discretionary.” Plaintiffs allege that EPA has not performed its mandatory duty under TSCA Sections 6(a) and 7. TSCA Section 6(a) gives EPA the authority to regulate substances that present “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment” and TSCA Section 7 gives EPA the authority to commence civil actions for seizure and/or relief of “imminent hazards.” Plaintiffs’ argument to direct EPA to ban methylene chloride is centered on the issue of risk to human health only, however, stating that it presents “an unreasonable risk to human health” as confirmed by EPA. Under TSCA Section 20(b)(2), plaintiffs are required to submit a notice of intent to sue 60 days prior to filing a complaint which they did on October 31, 2018.
On January 19, 2017, EPA issued a proposed rule under TSCA Section 6 to prohibit the manufacture (including import), processing, and distribution in commerce of methylene chloride for consumer and most types of commercial paint and coating removal (82 Fed. Reg. 7464). EPA also proposed to prohibit the use of methylene chloride in these commercial uses; to require manufacturers (including importers), processors, and distributors, except for retailers, of methylene chloride for any use to provide downstream notification of these prohibitions throughout the supply chain; and to require recordkeeping. EPA relied on a risk assessment of methylene chloride published in 2014, the scope of which EPA stated included “consumer and commercial paint and coating removal.” The proposed rule stated that in the risk assessment, EPA identified risks from inhalation exposure including “neurological effects such as cognitive impairment, sensory impairment, dizziness, incapacitation, and loss of consciousness (leading to risks of falls, concussion, and other injuries)” and, based on EPA’s analysis of worker and consumer populations' exposures to methylene chloride in paint and coating removal, EPA proposed “a determination that methylene chloride and NMP in paint and coating removal present an unreasonable risk to human health.” The comment period on the proposed rule was extended several times, ending in May 2017, and in September 2017 EPA held a workshop to help inform EPA’s understanding of methylene chloride use in furniture refinishing.
No further action was taken to issue the rule in final, however, until December 21, 2018, when EPA sent the final rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. On the same day, EPA also sent another rule to OMB for review titled “Methylene Chloride; Commercial Paint and Coating Removal Training, Certification and Limited Access Program,” which has not previously been included in EPA’s Regulatory Agenda; very little is known about this rule. Plaintiffs do not refer to it in the complaint but there is speculation, based on its title, that this second rule may allow for some commercial uses of methylene chloride.
We recall the lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) in 2018 challenging EPA’s draft New Chemicals Decision-Making Framework document as a final rule. The current action further reflects the commitment of detractors of EPA to use the courts and every other means available to oppose the Administration’s TSCA implementation efforts. Whether and when this court will respond is unclear. What is clear is that the case will be closely watched, as the outcome will be an important signal to the TSCA stakeholder community regarding the utility of TSCA Section 20(a)(2) to force non-discretionary EPA actions that the Administration may be disinclined to take.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
On October 17, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its final fees rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in the Federal Register. 83 Fed. Reg. 52694. The final rule largely tracks the proposed rule. EPA is establishing fees applicable to any person required to submit information to EPA; or a notice, including an exemption or other information, to be reviewed by EPA; or who manufactures (including imports) a chemical substance that is the subject of a risk evaluation. This final rulemaking describes the final TSCA fees and fee categories for fiscal years 2019, 2020, and 2021, and explains the methodology by which the final TSCA fees were determined. It identifies some factors and considerations for determining fees for subsequent fiscal years; and includes amendments to existing fee regulations governing the review of premanufacture notices, exemption applications and notices, and significant new use notices. As required in TSCA, EPA is also establishing standards for determining which persons qualify as “small business concerns” and thus would be subject to lower fee payments. Small businesses will be eligible to receive a substantial discount of approximately 80 percent on their fees. EPA will host a series of webinars focusing on making TSCA submissions and paying fees under the final rule. The first webinar was held on October 10, 2018. The other two webinars will be held on October 24, 2018, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (EDT) and on November 7, 2018, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (EDT). Our memorandum provides an overview of the final rule with specific information about final fee amounts and timing and a commentary. The final rule is effective on October 18, 2018.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
On September 27, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the user fees final rule for the administration of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the fourth and remaining framework rule to be issued in final under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg).
This final rule, that amends 40 C.F.R. Parts 700, 720, 723, 725, 790, and 791, “describes the final TSCA fees and fee categories for fiscal years 2019, 2020, and 2021”; “explains the methodology by which the final TSCA fees were determined”; “identifies some factors and considerations for determining fees for subsequent fiscal years”; and “includes amendments to existing fee regulations governing the review of premanufacture notices, exemption applications and notices, and significant new use notices.” The final rule has not been published yet in the Federal Register so an effective date is not yet available; a pre-publication version is available here.
Specifically, EPA is establishing fees applicable to any person required to submit information to EPA under TSCA Section 4; or a notice, including an exemption or other information, to be reviewed by EPA under TSCA Section 5; or who manufactures (including imports) a chemical substance that is the subject of a risk evaluation under TSCA Section 6(b). EPA is also establishing standards for determining which persons qualify as "small business concerns" and thus would be subject to lower fee payments.
In the press release announcing the rule, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler states that this rule will “provide resources needed to support the valuable work EPA does to review chemicals for safety, manage risk as required, and make chemical information available as appropriate.” During fiscal years 2019-2021, EPA states it will “work to track costs and will use that information to adjust future fees, if appropriate.”
EPA also announced that it will be hosting a series of webinars focusing on making TSCA submissions and paying fees under the final rule. The webinars are scheduled for October 10, 2018, from 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. (EST); October 24, 2018, from 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. (EST); and November 7, 2018, from 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. (EST).
More information on TSCA implementation is available on our website under key phrase Lautenberg Implementation. A detailed Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) memorandum on the TSCA user fees final rule is forthcoming.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
On August 31, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review a final rule regarding user fees for the administration of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). As reported in our February 9, 2018, memorandum, “Administrator Pruitt Signs TSCA User Fee Proposal,” as amended by the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, TSCA provides EPA the authority to levy fees on certain chemical manufacturers, including importers and processors, to “provide a sustainable source of funding to defray resources that are available for implementation of new responsibilities under the amended law.” Under the amendments to TSCA, EPA has authority to require payment from manufacturers and processors who:
- Are required to submit information by test rule, test order, or enforceable consent agreement (ECA) (TSCA Section 4);
- Submit notification of or information related to intent to manufacture a new chemical or significant new use of a chemical (TSCA Section 5); or
- Manufacture or process a chemical substance that is subject to a risk evaluation, including a risk evaluation conducted at the request of a manufacturer (TSCA Section 6(b)).
EPA’s February 26, 2018, proposed rule described the proposed TSCA fees and fee categories for fiscal years (FY) 2019, 2020, and 2021, and explained the methodology by which the proposed TSCA user fees were determined and would be determined for subsequent FYs. In proposing the new TSCA user fees, EPA also proposed amending long-standing user fee regulations governing the review of Section 5 premanufacture notices (PMN), exemption applications and notices, and significant new use notices (SNUN). Under the proposed rule, after implementation of final TSCA user fees regulations, certain manufacturers and processors would be required to pay a prescribed fee for each Section 5 notice or exemption application, Section 4 testing action, or Section 6 risk evaluation for EPA to recover certain costs associated with carrying out certain work under TSCA. EPA did not propose specific fees for submission of confidential business information (CBI).
By Lynn L. Bergeson, Charles M. Auer, Richard E. Engler, Ph.D., and Oscar Hernandez, Ph.D.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) release of its Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Section 5(a)(3)(C) determination for P-16-0510 represents a significant step in EPA’s implementation of the New Chemicals Program under new TSCA. The substance is a polymer (a copolymer of ethylene glycol and propylene glycol end-capped with acrylamide groups). It is intended to be used as a deodorizer in a variety of products, including floor cleaners, cat litter, fabric freshener sprays, and other consumer products.
Notably, EPA’s determination document specifies the conditions of use that are intended, known, and reasonably foreseen. EPA states that there are no known or reasonably foreseen conditions of use other than those intended by the submitter. This may appear to be a controversial statement. Based on EPA’s interpretation of “conditions of use,” it would not pass legal muster to speculate that “anybody could manufacture or use it for anything” and, hence, impose use restrictions to prevent purely speculative applications with no basis in fact or reality. EPA has repeatedly stated that it would base what is reasonably foreseen on information, knowledge, or experience, not on any conceivable condition of use.
EPA identifies the new chemical’s potential health hazard endpoints based on the acrylate/acrylamide category. The concerns are based on acrylamide itself and some low molecular acrylamide analogs and include mutagenicity, developmental toxicity, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, and a “marginal potential” for oncogenicity. This too may sound alarming. The real question, however, is how toxic is the new chemical and are exposures expected to exceed a “safe” level.
In this case, EPA specifically considers the low-molecular weight (LMW) components of the polymer (i.e., the “worst case”) in its assessment and identifies two analogs of the LMW components. Both analogs have similar structural features (they are end-capped with acrylates), so both are expected to share the same mode of action, and have similar molecular weights as the LMW components of the premanufacture notification (PMN) substance. EPA states that it also considered the toxicity of acrylamide in its assessment. We note, however, that acrylamide is not a good analog because it is substantially lower molecular weight than the LMW components of the PMN substance. Based on the identified analogs, EPA set a no observable adverse effect level (NOAEL) of 250 mg/kg/day for systemic toxicity based on a combined repeat dose/reproductive/developmental toxicity screening test (OECD 422). This study tests for a chemical’s potential to cause toxicity and the primary endpoints of concern relevant to the category (developmental, reproductive, and neurotoxicity). This NOAEL would put the substance in the low-to-moderate toxicity category. Note that despite the nominally alarming set of health endpoints identified in EPA’s category assessment, the 422 study shows the analog is not especially toxic to mammals. By way of contrast, EPA’s most recent Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment of acrylamide identified a NOAEL of 0.5 mg/kg-day.
EPA also identifies ecotoxicity concerns. Using its predictive models, EPA predicts toxicity levels for both acute and chronic effects to aquatic species and sets concentrations of concern (CoC) at 425 ppb for acute exposures and 43 ppb for chronic exposures. These levels put the substance in the “moderate” category for environmental hazard.
EPA then applies exposure modeling to predict exposures to workers, the general population, and consumers. EPA found that predicted exposures are sufficiently below EPA’s concern level to not present an unreasonable risk to workers, the general population, or consumers. EPA even found that at the “worst case” of 100 percent PMN substance, exposures would still be sufficiently below EPA’s concern level. EPA also evaluated surface water concentrations and found that the estimated maximum acute and chronic concentrations did not exceed the CoCs.
EPA reviewed the PMN, reviewed likely and potential exposures to workers, the general population, consumers, and aquatic species, and did not identify any foreseeable conditions of use that would lead EPA to predict that unreasonable risk was likely.
This is a marked and welcomed departure from previous TSCA Section 5(a)(3)(C) decisions. In nearly all cases in the past, EPA only made a not likely determination if it identified a low hazard for both health and ecological effects (“low/low” cases). Absent a low/low finding, EPA seemingly believed that there could be some conditions of use that could contribute exposures that could exceed EPA’s concern levels. Based on our review, EPA did not explain how it differentiated between “any possible/foreseeable” and “reasonably foreseeable” conditions of use. Instead, if EPA could imagine a set of circumstances that could elicit an exceedance, EPA was of the view that new TSCA precluded it from making a Section 5(a)(3)(C) finding. (While some stakeholders might applaud an approach based on concepts such as the European Union’s Precautionary Principle, this is not how new TSCA, or U.S. environmental legislation more generally, is structured.)
In the case of P-16-0510, EPA more carefully applied new TSCA as written when it identified a low/moderate health concern and a moderate eco concern, and nevertheless took a reasonable approach grounded on the law to go beyond mere consideration of potential hazard and to interpret the “reasonably foreseen” conditions of use and assess unreasonable risk as new TSCA requires. We support this more measured approach and believe it better meets the statutory intent and requirements. As we have written previously, in our view, a “not likely” finding is not limited to cases in which toxicity is so low that exceedances are unimaginable. Rather, EPA must limit its consideration to those conditions of use that are reasonably likely to occur and must evaluate unreasonable risks, not merely hazard, and regulate to protect to the “extent necessary” to protect against such unreasonable risks.
We applaud EPA’s more measured approach that likely indicates a maturation of its understanding of what is needed to meet a not likely determination. We urge EPA to articulate its thinking on what is and is not “reasonably foreseeable” and what PMN submitters can do to help EPA understand not only what is intended, but what might be reasonably foreseen to occur.