EPA’s Design to Strong-Arm the Chemical Industry

If you believe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, its Design for the Environment (DfE) program is an example of a voluntary effort to protect the environment. In reality, it’s nothing less than a tool designed strong-arm industry into abandoning useful products.

The program calls on companies to eliminate certain chemicals from their products voluntarily, largely based on hazard rather than actual risk.

The crux of the problem is the focus on “hazard,” which simply represents the potential for danger given specific circumstances and/or exposures. For example, water is hazardous because excessive consumption can produce fatal “water intoxification” or hyponatraemia.  But we don’t need to “voluntarily” take it off the market.

Currently, the agency is using the DfE program to strong-arm the laundry industry to stop using detergents that include a certain class of chemicals — Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE) surfactants — although there has been no proper risk assessment process that would justify regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Meanwhile, the producers of these chemicals are up in arms as they see their market disappear without justification or due process.

The trade association representing these chemical makers and some users — the Alkylphenols & Ethoxylates Research Council — complained about this effort in a May 10 press statement. It noted that EPA’s review of the issue under the DfE program “represents at best a simplistic hazard-based review that will not ensure that products formulated with the alternative surfactants will be safer or pose a lesser risk to human health or the environment.”

Yet EPA can get away without proper reviews and standards because, after all, the program is “voluntary!” Well, apparently not  for everyone.