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Daily News Blog

10
Aug

Is “Safer Choice” Eliminating Hazardous Chemical Use through Management and Product Choice?

(Beyond Pesticides, August 10, 2023) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safer Choice program, a voluntary labeling program, has announced an opportunity for public comment on new areas of work—opening up a public discussion of priorities for identifying less toxic products in the marketplace. EPA describes the labeling program as a part of its Pollution Prevention (P2) program, which, according to the agency, “includes practices that reduce, eliminate, or prevent pollution at its source, such as using safer ingredients in products.” A July 17 Federal Registration Notice, Stakeholder Engagement Opportunity for the Safer Choice and Design for the Environment (DfE) Programs’ Potential Expansion Into New Product Categories, announces a public listening session August 28, and a public comment deadline of September 11, 2023

In the face of existential health, biodiversity, and climate crises, advocates say that the question before EPA is whether strict systemic measures will be adopted to meet the urgency of the crises. This will require the quick phase out of hazardous substances that are contributing to the existential crises (including petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers). While the Safer Choice program can identify practices and products that are not harmful to health, biodiversity, and climate, it is a labeling rather than a regulatory program that can mandate an elimination of known hazards. As a labeling program, the Safer Choice program is not typically incorporated into the regulatory review process, although it could be. Under the “unreasonable adverse effects” standard of the federal pesticide law (the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act [FIFRA]), regulators could determine that the registration of a toxic substance is unreasonable in light of the availability of alternative practices and products identified by the Safe Choice program.

Safer Choice bills itself as a pollution prevention program. The program is a part of the agency’s pollution prevention program that describes itself as including the elements of eliminating hazardous materials and preventive practices that stop the uses of known toxic substances. According to the program, “Pollution prevention (P2), also known as source reduction, is any practice that reduces, eliminates, or prevents pollution at its source prior to recycling, treatment or disposal.”

In its Master Criteria for Safer Ingredients, the Safer Choice program spells out the purpose of the criteria:

“The Safer Choice Master Criteria for Safer Ingredients (Master Criteria) are comprehensive, science-based criteria designed to ensure that the safest possible ingredients are used in Safer Choice products. Safer Choice evaluates every ingredient in a formulation within its functional class context and based on its key, distinguishing human health and environmental characteristics. In this way, potential product ingredients can be viewed as part of a continuum of improved or safer ingredient choices. These criteria also enhance the transparency of the Safer Choice Program.

The Master Criteria make it possible to draw a line demarcating the greener or “low-concern” end of the continuum of chemical safety. To define low concern, Safer Choice uses toxicological thresholds established by highly respected health and environmental protection authorities, including the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for the Classification and Labeling of Hazard Substances and the U.S. EPA’s New Chemicals Program. For functional classes where no low-concern ingredients currently exist, Safer Choice works with its stakeholders to carefully modify the Master Criteria in a way that allows for ingredient choices while ensuring the safest possible ingredients in that functional class. These criteria were designed for use in distinguishing safer chemicals for the Safer Choice Program.

Safer Choice product review is chemistry and toxicology intensive, calling on the extensive expertise of the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. The Office’s depth of expertise helps ensure that chemicals are fully and accurately characterized based on the best available information. Information for the review is drawn from peer-reviewed literature, primary source materials, hazardous chemical lists, Agency databases, and predictive tools which estimate potential human health and environmental concerns based on a chemical’s structural and/or biological similarity to known chemicals of concern. EPA will consider all sources of developing information, such as the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program or enhancements to estimation models such as EPI Suite™ that occur over time.”

EPA’s pollution prevention program explains its approaches as follows:

“Pollution prevention approaches can be applied to all potential and actual pollution-generating activities, including those found in the energy, agriculture, federal, consumer and industrial sectors. Prevention practices are essential for preserving wetlands, groundwater sources and other critical ecosystems – areas in which we especially want to stop pollution before it begins.”

In the energy sector, pollution prevention can reduce environmental damages from extraction, processing, transport and combustion of fuels. Pollution prevention approaches include:

  • increasing efficiency in energy use;
  • use of environmentally benign fuel sources.

In the agricultural sector, pollution prevention approaches include:

  • Reducing the use of water and chemical inputs;
  • Adoption of less environmentally harmful pesticides or cultivation of crop strains with natural resistance to pests; and
  • Protection of sensitive areas.

In the industrial sector, examples of P2 practices include:

  • Modifying a production process to produce less waste
  • Using non-toxic or less toxic chemicals as cleaners, degreasers and other maintenance chemicals
  • Implementing water and energy conservation practices
  • Reusing materials such as drums and pallets rather than disposing of them as waste

In homes and schools examples of P2 practices include:

  • Using reusable water bottles instead of throw-aways
  • Automatically turning off lights when not in use
  • Repairing leaky faucets and hoses
  • Switching to “green” cleaners

The Safer Choice program, which was launched as a label under the Design for the Environment in the early 1990s, intersects with the Federal Sustainability Plan announced in President Biden’s Executive Order 14057. While focused on clean jobs in response to the climate crisis, the plan sets goals for the federal government:

Labeling is a beginning to help move markets. As a purchaser of products, the federal government can elevate products that meet clear sustainability standards. However, with U.S. and global pollution, including pollution from pesticides and fertilizers, exceeding safe limits for humanity, labeling and federal purchasing does not meet the challenge, according to advocates. And, beyond product purchasing, meeting the current challenge requires that the federal government dramatically alter its approach to the management of all federal lands (from the National Park Service to the National Forest Service, National Wildlife Refuges, and Bureau of Land Management) to regenerative organic practices that meet certified organic standards under the National Organic Program.

With the public comment period open for the Safer Choice program, the public can advise, for example, that the program evaluate fertilizers and educate the public on the harm caused by synthetic petrochemical fertilizer production and use on farms, gardens, lawns, and landscapes.

Public advocacy is needed to integrate the findings of Safer Choice into the regulatory decision-making process across agencies that currently allow the use of hazardous materials and practices that can be replaced by organic-compatible practices and products.

Market-driven labeling has effected changes in the availability of products. Organic labeling helped the organic market grow to a $68 billion market under the Organic Food Production Act and the guidance of the National Organic Standards Board. However, the public interest goal is not to continue as a voluntary program in the market but to incorporate the findings of alternative products and practices into regulatory decision making, which currently defaults to the assumption that toxic practices are necessary to achieve productivity and profitability goals, when that has been proven –as a result of the voluntary organic certification program—to be untrue. The petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers have been proven to be unnecessary.

At the same time that the public pushes to expand and tighten the Safer Choice program, it must serve as the basis for findings that harmful chemicals and practices should be ended as a matter of law, not voluntary action. In some cases, EPA may be able to incorporate Safer Choice criteria into preexisting regulatory standards. For example, EPA could modify its regulations under FIFRA to state that any pesticide that does not meet Safer Choice criteria poses an unreasonable risk. In other cases, it may require Congressional action.

Beyond Pesticides maintains a database of organic-compatible practices that are practical and cost-effective. See ManageSafe for Least-Toxic Control f Pesticides in the Home and Garden. Help convert all your community public spaces, parks, playing fields, and schoolyards to organic land management by working with Parks for a Sustainable Future.

Plan to comment by September 11, 2023 during the Safer Choice comment period. 

Virtual Listening Session: You must register by 5 p.m. EST on August 28, 2023 at https://abtassociates.webex.com/​weblink/​register/​r3055e675f25be841c60ff1a37c70118d to receive the webcast meeting link and audio teleconference information before the meeting, [Virtual Listening Session date: August 29, 2023, 2:00–3:00 p.m. EST.]

Special Accommodations: To request accommodation for a disability, please contact the

Taylor Dunivin, Safer Choice Program (7409M), Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20460–0001; telephone number: (202) 566–0580; email address: [email protected].

Written Comments: Submit your comments, identified by docket identification (ID) number EPA–HQ–OPPT–2023–0311, through https://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments. Do not submit electronically any information you consider to be Confidential Business Information (CBI) or other information whose disclosure is restricted by statute. Additional instructions on commenting or visiting the docket, along with more information about dockets generally, is available at https://www.epa.gov/​dockets.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 Source: Stakeholder Engagement Opportunity for the Safer Choice and Design for the Environment (DfE) Programs’ Potential Expansion Into New Product Categories

 

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