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Toxics Use Reduction Legislation

Toxics use reduction legislation


In recent years, such disasters resulting from toxic chemicals as those at Love Canal , New York, and in Bhopal, India , have increased awareness of the hazards associated with their use. In response to such concerns, "right-to-know" statutes and regulations have been enacted on both the state and federal levels. In 1990, Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act , but the provisions of this legislation are relatively limited when compared to the toxics use reduction (TUR) statutes that have been enacted in at least 26 states since 1989. In the 1990s, similar legislation was passed in Great Britain and other European countries.

State TUR statutes, sometimes called pollution prevention statutes, are designed to motivate businesses to reduce their use of toxic chemicals. Most such statutes set specific overall goals, such as a 50% reduction in the use of toxic chemicals, with that reduction being phased in over a specified number of years. A comprehensive TUR statute usually covers planning requirements, reporting requirements, and protection of trade secrets. It encourages worker and community involvement, provides technical assistance and research, institutes enforcement mechanisms and penalties for non-compliance, and designates funding.

The Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (MTURA) is considered one of the strongest existing TUR laws, and it is often used as a model for such legislation in other states. The stated goals of the MTURA are to reduce toxic waste by 50% statewide by 1997, while continuing to sustain and promote the competitive advantages of Massachusetts' businesses. Companies subject to MTURA are called large quantity toxics users, and each of these are now required to develop an inventory of the toxic chemicals flowing both in and out of every production process at its facilities. The company must then develop a plan for reducing the use of toxic chemicals in each of these production processes. The inventory and a summary of this plan must be filed with a designated state agency, and the company must submit an annual report for each toxic substance manufactured or used at that facility. To accommodate concerns about trade secrets, the MTURA allows companies to report amounts of a chemical substance using an index/matrix format, instead of absolute amounts. In other states, TUR laws address such concerns by allowing companies to withhold information they believe would reveal trade secrets except on court order.

Plans filed under the MTURA are not available to the public, but any 10 residents living within 10 mi (16.09 km) of a facility required to prepare such a plan may petition to have the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection examine both the plan and the supporting data. Summaries of these plans must be filed every two years and these are available to Massachusetts residents, as well as the annual reports these companies must issue. Large quantity toxics users must notify their employees of new plans as well as updating existing plans, and management is required to solicit suggestions from all employees on options for reducing the use of toxic substances.

To encourage toxics use reduction, MTURA has established the Office of Toxics Use Reduction Assistance Technology, which provides technical assistance to industrial toxics users. The name of the office has since been changed to the Office of Technical Assistance for Toxics Use Reduction, or OTA. The act also established a Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Lowell, which develops training programs, conducts research on toxics use reduction methods, and provides technical assistance to individual firms seeing to adopt pollution prevention techniques. A recent example of the Institute's publications is a module on wet cleaning techniques as a replacement for standard dry cleaning , intended for businesses in the garment care industry. In 1995, TURI established a Toxics Use Reduction Networking (TURN) grant program that funds model projects intended to increase citizen participation in toxics use reduction. The grant program funds two basic types of projects, community awareness projects and municipal integration projects. In 2002, TURI broadened its grant program to include projects related to strategic TUR planning at the community level.

Enforcement of MTURA is overseen by the Administrative Council on Toxics Use Reduction, but there are also provisions in the act for court action by groups of ten or more Massachusetts citizens. Civil penalties up to $25,000 for each day of the violation can be assessed, and for willful violations a court can impose fines between $2,500 and $25,000 per violation or imprisonment for up to one year, or both. Administration of MTURA is funded through a toxics users fee imposed on companies subject to the act. Fees are determined according to the number of employees at each facility and the number of toxic substances reported by the facility.

Those drafting TUR laws in other states have chosen a variety of mechanisms to achieve their goals. One issue on which states differ is whether the reduction of toxics, which focuses on pollution prevention, should be the sole emphasis of the statute, or whether the statute should include other objectives. These other objectives are usually means of pollution control , which can include waste reduction , waste minimization, and what is called "out-of-process" recycling , which occurs when chemical wastes are taken from the production site, transported to recycling equipment, and then returned. Analysts refer to those statutes that promote toxics-use reduction exclusively or almost exclusively as having a pure focus. Those statutes that explicitly combine toxics-use reduction with pollution control are labeled as having a mixed focus. Statutes in Massachusetts are categorized as pure, while toxics use reduction legislation in Oregon, for example, is considered to have a mixed focus.

The Oregon and Massachusetts statutes are considered by many to be the strongest toxics use reduction legislation in the United States, and most states have adopted less stringent provisions. For example, the United States General Accounting Office issued a report in June of 1992 that lists only ten states out of twenty-six with such laws, as having legislation that "clearly promotes" programs to reduce the use of toxic chemicals.

Over the past three decades, Congress has enacted various laws aimed at pollution control. These include the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976), and the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (1986). Pollution-control laws such as these are primarily considered source-reduction laws. These laws are designed to reduce waste after it has been generated, while TUR laws are designed to restrict hazardous waste before generation, by reducing or eliminating the toxic chemicals that enter the production processes. Some federal legislation is, however, moving in the direction of a TUR strategy.

TUR laws have continued the goals of right-to-know legislation by moving away from reactive enforcement of environmental laws toward hazard prevention. A recent example of this change in direction is the relationship between toxics use reduction and cancer prevention. The Cancer Prevention Coalition stated in 1999 that phasing out the use of known carcinogenic substances in industry through toxics use reduction legislation is an important measure in reversing the current high rates of cancer incidence. The Coalition noted that TUR laws exemplify the "precautionary principle of risk prevention" in contrast to a strategy of risk management.

TUR laws are also different in their "multimedia" approach to regulation. Previous environmental and occupational and health and safety statutes have divided enforcement between various agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration , and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Even under the jurisdiction of a single agency, moreover, current environmental laws often require different approaches to regulation of toxics depending on where they are foundair, water, or land. In contrast, TUR laws require comprehensive reports and plans for the reduction of toxics discharged innto all media. TUR laws have been supported by coalitions of environmentalists and labor representatives precisely because of this comprehensive multimedia approach.

Reactions by industry, however, have been mixed. In some instances, businesses have saved money once they began purchasing substitute chemicals, or when changing production processes improved efficiency. But some firms have hesitated to make the capital investments needed to change their industrial processes because the cost-benefit ratio of such changes remains uncertain. Some firms have judged the costs of alternative chemicals or processes to be prohibitively expensive, and in other cases alternative technologies or less hazardous chemicals have not been developed and are simply not available at any price.

The EPA has found, however, that some companies do not take advantage of available technology for reducing or eliminating toxic chemicals because they are unaware of its existence. The Toxics Use Reduction Institute has been a pioneer in making such information available to companies within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), a subagency of the EPA, has sponsored the Green Chemistry Program since 1995. The Green Chemistry Program awards grants for research in green chemistry, promotes partnerships with industry in developing green chemistry technologies, and works with other federal agencies in building green chemistry principles into their operations. OPPT also supports several research centers representing industrial as well as academic and government concerns. In addition to TURI, these centers include the Emission Reduction Research Center at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the Center for Process Analytical Control at the University of Washington.

On the other hand, some industries have been working since the late 1990s for repeal or abolition of TUR legislation. The Massachusetts Chemical Technology Alliance, for example, is opposed to the Commonwealth's TURA statutes on the ground that compliance is ineffectual as well as too costly. Other industry-sponsored groups maintain that the law puts Massachusetts companies at a competitive disadvantage. It is likely that controversy over the need for and effectiveness of TUR legislation in the United States will continue for the foreseeable future.

See also Chemical spills; Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act; Environmental liability; Hazardous material; Hazardous Substances Act; International trade in toxic wastes; NIMBY; Waste management

[Paulette L. Stenzel and Rebecca J. Frey, Ph.D. ]


RESOURCES

BOOKS

Epstein, Samuel S., MD. The Politics of Cancer Revisited. East Ridge Press, 1998.

PERIODICALS

DeVito, Michael J. "Toxic Reporting: Help or Hindrance?" Chemistry and Industry (January 5, 1998): 36.

Pelley, Janet. " Toxic Chemical Use Reporting Debated on State and National Levels." Environmental Science and Technology 32 (1998): 912.

OTHER

Toxics Use Reduction Institute. Six Years of Progress in Toxics Use Reduction. Lowell, MA: TURI, 1996.

ORGANIZATIONS

Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute, University of Massachusetts Lowell, One University Avenue, Lowell, MA USA 01854-2866 (978) 934-3275, Fax: (978) 934-3050, <htpp://www.turi.org>

Office of Technical Assistance for Toxics Use Reduction, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 900, Boston, MA USA 02114-2136 (617) 626-1060, Fax: (617) 626-1095, <http://www.state.ma.us/ota>

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