With Chemical Safety Reform Passed, What’s Next for Companies?

michelle_harveyHistory was made this week. Major environmental legislation was signed into law for the first time in nearly 25 years, updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the primary U.S. chemical safety law, and putting in place a new foundation of federal oversight for chemicals being used in the marketplace. It took the right conditions and a lot of hard work – including bold action from the retail and manufacturing sectors to answer consumers’ call for safer products – to get here.

Now, as this new law gets implemented, industry is headed for a new status quo on how chemicals are evaluated and approved for use. What does that mean for those companies already on the safer chemicals journey?

Safer Chemicals in Supply Chains

Fertile Ground for Safer Products

This new piece of legislation –The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – amends for the first time the core provisions of TSCA, originally passed in 1976.  It requires new chemicals to clear a safety bar before entering the market, and mandates safety reviews of all existing chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Many consumers assume this has been occurring all along. If a product has reached a retailer’s shelves, someone must have reviewed its chemical ingredients for safety, right? But this hasn’t been the case. When TSCA was signed into law, it grandfathered in the 64,000 chemicals then in use as “safe.”  The law didn’t mandate review of new chemicals entering the market, either. And it put the entire burden on EPA to find evidence of harm in order to restrict market entry. The updated law will for the first time give EPA the authority and resources to review both new and existing chemicals and make affirmative decisions about their safety, along with new authority to more easily obtain information necessary for conducting these reviews.

Under the Lautenberg Act, EPA will first focus on “high priority” chemicals, such as those classified as known human carcinogens, highly toxic, persistent in the environment or bioaccumlative (able to build up in the bodies of animals). In assessing the safety of chemicals, EPA must consider risks to vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women. EPA can only consider the health and environmental impacts of the chemical—leaving consideration of costs or availability of alternatives to the next step when EPA is determining how to manage a chemical’s risks. The law also puts strong new limits on what information can qualify as ‘confidential business information,’ striking a balance between the public’s right to know about chemicals to which they may be exposed, and proprietary interests in chemical information important, for example, to innovation.

Accelerating a Company’s Safer Chemicals Journey

These changes will increase corporate incentives to document the safety of chemicals, good news for businesses committed to safer chemicals leadership. More information will better position companies to make informed decisions about what chemicals to use and not to use in their products.

With tens of thousands of chemicals currently on the market, change won’t come overnight. On the other hand, consumer expectations for chemical safety and transparency will continue to rise. Product companies and retailers demanding more evidence of safety and access to more information they can use to go beyond compliance will help drive the whole system, which helps raise the floor.

Companies Must Still Lead the Way

By going beyond compliance and continuing to place a premium on finding ever-safer alternatives, leading companies can distinguish themselves among consumers and help raise the ceiling. With regulatory certainty, companies are better positioned to define and implement progressive chemical policies.

Passage of the Lautenberg Act is an important step on the safer chemicals journey; the government will finally be able to do a better job of protecting consumers. But companies remain a much-needed partner in making safer products the new status quo. The question leaders will strive to answer is, “How do we continue to make our products safer, affordable, and more sustainable?”

Consumers will be watching carefully to see which brands offer products that are better for them and their families. Now that the regulatory bar for safer chemicals is set higher, companies need to seek out new ways to innovate if they want to differentiate themselves, stay competitive in the marketplace and continue to earn consumers’ loyalty.

Consumer Concern About Chemicals in Food Continues to Grow

Behind the Label_FFor the second year in a row, more than a third of consumers participating in the annual food industry survey rated chemicals in food as their most important food safety issue. Every year for the past decade, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) has surveyed more than 1,000 Americans aged 18-80, to gain insight into their attitudes towards food and diet. Although the way they have polled on these topics has changed over the years, the research shows a clear and steady rise in the number of Americans concerned about chemicals in their food.

In 2016, IFIC broke down the ‘chemicals in food’ option from 2015 into more specific concerns: chemicals in food (arsenic, mercury, BPA); carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in food; and food additives and ingredients (caffeine, MSG, flavors, colors, preservatives, etc.).

food-survey-graphics_block_2_croppedFor 38 percent of the respondents, these three specific sub-categories of chemicals in food combined were the most important food safety issue, a two-point jump since last year. And these concerns are being felt in the market: 40% of consumers who stated that chemicals were of great concern to them reported changing their eating habits.

Growing concern driving food supply chain changes

Consumers’ growing concern about chemicals reflects an increased awareness about the harmful effects they may have on human health and, importantly, a shift in how consumers are defining the issue of “safety” in food. As we reported a few months ago, a report from Deloitte, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association found that consumers are increasingly concerned about the short-term health effects of chemicals in food (e.g., no toxins) as well as the long-term effects (e.g. no carcinogens).

To their credit, the food industry is beginning to respond to these concerns. Read more

Making Strides on Companies’ Chemical Footprints

Behind the Label_FAs we’ve written here before, public commitment is one of the essential pillars of leadership on safer chemicals. When a company leads on public commitment, that means communicating not just its initial goal-setting, but its full safer chemicals journey, publicly and honestly.

That’s no small task. The rise of shareholder resolutions across a wide range of sectors shows that investors and purchaser communities are becoming increasingly interested in how companies manage chemicals and mitigate risk. With the release of its inaugural report, one organization is throwing a spotlight on companies that are not just making, but following through on, those commitments.

Ingredients for measuring your (chemical) footprint

Chemical Footprint Project logoThe Chemical Footprint Project (CFP) recognizes companies that have effectively demonstrated public commitment to improved chemicals management. A joint effort launched in June 2015 by Clean Production Action, Pure Strategies and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the CFP was created as a simple way for investors and purchasers to assess these critical aspects of corporate value.

The CFP’s evaluation system was designed to be flexible and can be used for any business sector, from personal care products to toys. Using a twenty question survey, the CFP assesses companies’ performance in four areas:

  1. Chemicals management strategy (i.e. corporate chemicals policies),
  2. Chemical inventory (i.e. knowing the chemicals used in products, manufacturing processes and supply chains),
  3. Chemical footprint measurement (i.e. knowing the mass of chemicals of high concern in a company’s products and packaging, processes, and supply chain and tracking progress toward safer alternatives), and
  4. Public disclosure and verification.

A company’s performance is scored on a 100-point scale, with a bonus for verification – respondents receive up to 4 points for independent validation of reported data.

Breaking down CFP’s findings

Last week, the CFP released its inaugural report, with 24 companies from seven sectors participating. Though individual company scores are presented without identification, CFP’s initial report reveals many interesting themes: Read more

Making Informed Choices about Chemical Substitutes: The Path Less Traveled

Finding substitute chemicals for ingredients either known to be harmful or with unknown safety information can be a case of swapping the devil you know for the devil you don't, a recent report found.

Behind the Label_FBuyer Beware: Toxic BPA and Regrettable Substitutes Found in the Linings of Canned Foods,” an extensive report by five public interest groups, documents the persistent use of bisphenol-A, or BPA, as a base ingredient for lining metal cans. Because of its endocrine-disrupting properties and other associated health risks, BPA has been the focus of a major federal research project and public campaigns to eliminate its uses in contact with food. Despite those efforts, 67% of tested cans still contain the chemical.

Equally troubling is that the report found four chemical types used in alternative can coatings – acrylic resins, oleoresin, polyester resins and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers. These chemicals not only were approved for uses decades ago with little to no data, but some have less-than-perfect safety profiles. This lack of innovation raises questions about the food industry’s use of informed substitutions.

Gauging alternative chemicals

In 2013, a group of more than 100 representatives of business, universities and NGOs published The Commons Principles for Alternatives Assessment, a broad consensus around simple, solutions-based guidance to move hazardous chemicals out of the supply chain and drive in safer innovations.

Key elements of informed decision-making that companies should use in choosing alternative product ingredients include reducing hazard, minimizing exposure, using the best available information, requiring disclosure and transparency, resolving trade-offs and taking action. While they were developed for chemicals in consumer products, these same principles apply to chemicals in food—or food additives— as well. In 2014, the National Academy of Sciences expanded these principles into its framework for chemical alternatives selection.

What’s in a can (liner)?

How do the food packaging industry’s choices and decision-making in replacing BPA measure up against the alternatives assessment principles listed above? According to the Buyer Beware report, not very well. Read more

Offering a Safer Choice is a Good Choice for Business

Sarah-Vogel-Safer-Choice

EDF Vice President, Health Sarah Vogel accepts EDF's Safer Choice Partner of the Year award

With so many vague claims and misleading labels on products in the marketplace, it’s no surprise that consumers are increasingly calling for safer products and greater transparency with regard to product ingredients. That’s why we at EDF were proud to share the stage at the EPA’s 2016 Safer Choice Partner of the Year awards ceremony yesterday with companies, trade groups, and other NGOs working to do just that.

EDF was recognized alongside other Safer Choice Partner of the Year awardees for “demonstrated leadership in furthering safer chemistry and products.” Among the 17 corporate winners were chemical makers, product manufacturers and retailers like BISSELL Homecare, The Clorox Company, Seventh Generation, BASF Corporation, Ecolab and Wegmans Food Markets, all of whom have submitted products or chemicals for certification under the Safer Choice label.

Safer Choice 2016 award winnersConsumer health is one of the most pressing – and frequently, less recognized – areas of corporate sustainability, and one where driving adoption of safer practices takes both ambition and leadership. We are gratified to see such a diverse range of corporations take significant steps to introduce safer chemicals into the marketplace and for organizations like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Healthy Schools Campaign to lend their support and encouragement.

Every product labeled under the Safer Choice certification program makes the marketplace a little safer and our jobs as advocates for consumer safety a little easier. Read more

Walmart Makes Progress on Its Sustainable Chemistry Policy

Behind the Label_FIt’s been two and a half years since Walmart first committed to adopting a sustainable chemistry policy. Since then, consumers, companies and advocates have been watching the retailer with interest. Today, Walmart released its ninth annual Global Responsibility Report (GRR), which outlines its environmental and social activities for the past year. For the first time, this report includes information about the progress it has made against its Sustainable Chemistry Policy adopted in 2013, which aimed for more transparency of product ingredients and safer formulations of products.

According to Walmart, it has reduced the usage (by weight) of its designated high priority chemicals by 95 percent, a pretty sizeable number. Walmart has said that it will post more specifics in the coming weeks on its Sustainability Hub, including quantitative results on all aspects of the policy’s implementation guide and details about how they achieved the substantial reduction.

casestudy-walmartWhile this is a promising step in the right direction, the GRR doesn’t identify the high priority chemicals that have been reduced. It is difficult to fully appreciate Walmart’s accomplishments without knowing the names of these chemical targets. We expect that the names of the high priority chemicals will be revealed on the Sustainability Hub.

Walmart’s announcement marks the first time a major retailer has publicly measured and shared the progress it has made against its commitment on chemicals. This is especially important to EDF because we know through research and experience that shared stories about progress can prompt others to follow, to the benefit of public and environmental health.

We believe there are three key factors that have made Walmart's progress possible: 1) the existence and use of a 3rd party-managed chemicals database that can generate quantitative, aggregate information about the chemicals on Walmart’s shelves, 2) a policy that prioritizes specific chemical targets, and 3) a time-bound business commitment to track and share progress publicly (in Walmart’s policy they committed to start sharing progress in 2016). We look forward to the day these practices reflect the business norm rather than the exception.

Market leadership will always have an important role to play alongside policy in driving safer chemicals and products into commerce. EDF looks forward to the additional details forthcoming on Walmart’s Sustainability Hub.

Follow Boma Brown-West on Twitter: @Bbrown_west

Also of interest:

Can You Taste That Smell? Maybe You Don’t Want To.

Recently, SC Johnson took the next step in product transparency, becoming the first major player in the consumer goods industry to disclose 100 percent of fragrance ingredients for a product line – in this case, its Glade® Fresh Citrus Blossoms collection. Consumers can now see what chemicals make up these home fragrances by reading product packaging or visiting SCJ’s WhatsInsideSCJohnson.com ingredient website. Over time, the company will expand the disclosure to the rest of its air fresheners and other products.

WhatsInSCJohnsonThis is meaningful. Industry-wide, major consumer goods companies list fragrances in aggregate on an ingredient list, whereas in actuality, those fragrances are composed of many individual chemicals. Consumers deserve greater transparency.

As SCJ Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson noted, “… key to [making thoughtful ingredient choices] is continually challenging the status quo. By sharing the full ingredient list for this fragrance — all the way down to the component level — we’re going beyond the norm of even so-called ‘natural’ products.”

EDF has applauded SCJ’s efforts on fragrance disclosure in the past, and we encourage them to continue increasing transparency throughout its product line. Read more

Why EDF May Decline a Seat at the Consensus Standard Table

Have you ever looked at the tag on your power supply and wondered what all those symbols meant? Many of them represent a voluntary consensus standard designed to protect the safety and health of the user.

Since we believe these types of standards can serve a valuable purpose, we wanted to explain why and how we make the decision to participate – and why we and other NGOs recently withdrew from one such effort by NSF International, funded by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

LabelsConsensus Standards

Put simply, a voluntary consensus standard means a relevant and balanced group of stakeholders got together and reached agreement on how to do something voluntarily and consistently that serves national needs.

For example, NSF/ANSI Standard 61: Drinking Water System Components sets health effects criteria for many water system components such as pipes and faucets. Such standards, overseen by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), can create assurance that might otherwise require regulation.

As you’ll read below, the ANSI due process guidance for consensus standards require balance in the range of viewpoints considered. EDF increasingly finds itself invited to represent the public interest point of view. Read more

Consumers’ Changing Views on Food Safety, and the Opportunity for Action

Behind the Label_FConsumers demand safe food, and they prioritize purchasing from brands that they trust to be safe. The food industry knows this and wisely makes safety a top priority. But consumers’ definition of safety is changing, and the food industry needs to evolve its practices to keep pace with consumer demand.

Customers have traditionally defined safety as “free of harmful elements.” Last year, more than thirty-six percent of consumers said chemicals in their food was their top food safety concern. A new report from Deloitte, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) found that definition of safety has expanded — that consumers consider safety both a short-term (e.g., toxin free) as well as a long-term (e.g., no carcinogens) concern and, as a result, it aligns with their health and wellness concerns.

Deloitte-FMI-GMA-report-coverThis expanded definition of safety includes attributes such as clear and accurate labeling; clear information on ingredients, both label and sourcing; fewer ingredients, processing and no artificial additives; and better nutritional content.

The message is clear: Retailers and food manufacturers need to adapt, or they risk losing market share to competitors who meet evolving customer demands with safer ingredients and improved transparency.

Read more

What’s in Your Product’s Flavor? Here’s Why You Should Find Out.

Behind the Label_FAs we discuss frequently on this blog, maintaining transparency and control of your company’s supply chain can help limit potential risks to your business. With some food additives, however, transparency is not enough and certain chemicals should be removed from your products, or risk having to reformulate quickly at significant cost or having to recall products with those ingredients.

A set of seven carcinogenic flavor chemicals under review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers a good example of these risks. On Jan. 4, 2016, the FDA announced that it is considering whether to rescind its 1964 approval of – effectively banning – seven flavoring chemicals as food additives. Read more