Toxic Influence

What's at stake in chemical battles

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010 

A previous version of this article implied that Peritus Public Relations registered to lobby for Arysta Life Sciences in January 2009. Federal records show they registered in December 2009.


Chemical industry resistance and campaign pressures from the upcoming election combined to kill reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act this year, but it is expected be reintroduced early in 2011. It will face the same legion of lobbyists from many sectors of U.S. Commerce.

Major trade groups and businesses working on this issue: American Chemistry Council; American Cleaning Institute; BASF; Consumer Specialty Products Association; CropLife America; Dow Chemical; DuPont; Grocery Manufacturers of America; The National Association of Manufacturers; Personal Care Products Council; Procter & Gamble; Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates; 3M Co; and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Hired Guns: The Alpine Group; Bockorny Group; Holland & Knight; Ogilvy Government Relations; Ropes & Gray LLP.

Through the Revolving Door: Rebeckah  Adcock, who in July joined CropLife America as senior director of government affairs. Adcock came from the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, where she was counsel to ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.). Before working in the Senate, Adcock was director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. Her CropLife America bio notes that she’ll be working on reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act and other concerns for the pesticide industry trade group.

And: Ogilvy Government Relations’ team for the ACC includes: Joe Lapia, a senior vice president, who worked the Democratic Cloakroom for Majority Leader Harry Reid; and  Moses Mercado, a managing director who held high ranking posts for the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic House leadership. Mercado’s biography says he “is a premier political organizer who designed and executed winning strategic plans for leading public officials,” among them, Barack Obama.

Action plans/Chemicals of Concern
In December 2009, for the first time since the Toxic Substances Control Act was adopted in 1976, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to create a list of chemicals that present “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” Although the list is not a legal ban, an EPA spokesman said it does serve as a signal to the marketplace that the agency wants these substances phased out.

Since then, EPA has developed “action plans” for phthalates, flame retardants, Bisphenol A, known as BPA, and benzidine dyes, among other chemicals. The action plans call for a quick government evaluation, followed by a likely phase-out, restrictions on use, or a ban. Businesses say being on the list unfairly stigmatizes them and opens them up to legal liability. They also maintain that their products are safe.

But EPA is relying on studies that show these chemicals do threaten public health. Recent reports show that phthalates harm the reproductive system in male animals and may do so in humans, and they are associated with behavioral problems in baby girls. Flame retardants may pose neurological, developmental and reproductive problems. BPA is an endocrine disrupter that mimics estrogen in the body, and has been linked to decreased brain function, cancer, reduced sperm count and heart disease, among other problems. Benzidine dyes can metabolize into substances that cause cancer.

Businesses that manufacturer or use many other chemicals are worried that their products will be added to the list. In a separate move, there are congressional proposals to ban BPA, to reduce mercury emissions, and to further reduce lead exposure.

Major Trade Groups and businesses working on this issue: American Chemistry Council; Bromine Science and Environmental Forum; Chemtura Corp.; Chep USA; Del Monte; Dow Chemical; DuPont, Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance; Grocery Manufacturers of America; Koch Industries; Kraft Foods Co.; North American Metal Packaging Alliance; Sabic Innovative Plastics; and  Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates.

Hired guns:  Akin Gump Haus Felder and Strauss, LLP; Bergeon & Campbell; Bockorny Group; Crowell & Moring LLP; Dutko Worldwide; Holland & Knight; Patton Boggs; Ropes & Gray; Van Scoyoc Associates.

Through the Revolving Door:
Katherine Whelan, former top aide to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a current senior public policy adviser at Patton Boggs, lobbies on fire retardant issues for the industry. Whelan is also former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association.

Capitol Connection: Abigail Blunt, who lobbies to defend BPA for Kraft, is married to former House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), now running for the Senate.

Confidential Business Information
Earlier this year, EPA began cracking down on companies that claim “trade secrets” to avoid revealing which chemicals they use in manufacturing or put in their products. These claims have long gone unchallenged — unread in some cases — with the result that both EPA and the public have been in the dark about chemicals that may pose hazards to people and the environment.

Critics have been concerned that businesses have been able to hide the names of chemicals that were already the subject of substantial risk notices. EPA now promises to go back and review past claims.

Meanwhile, EPA also sent out a challenge to businesses, asking them to reduce their current “voluminous claims.”  EPA is also proposing to add 16 chemicals to its list of those in the Toxic Release Inventory — a list of carcinogenic and otherwise harmful substances. If a company works with a chemical on the inventory, it must inform the public of any chemical releases in the community. In August, in another move to increase transparency, EPA proposed an Inventory Update Rule.

Currently, manufactures that process at least 300,000 pounds of a chemical per site have to report specific information, such as the number of workers likely to be exposed, the locations of their facilities and the presence of the chemical in products intended for use by children. Under the proposed rule, businesses that produce just 25,000 pounds or more will have to comply.

Industry attorney Lynn Bergeson wrote a paper noting that the proposed changes "could substantially increase industry's reporting obligations and burdens ... while many of the changes come as no great surprise as EPA did a good job in announcing plans previously, actually seeing them in the federal register is another matter and has caused anxiety in the chemical community.”

Major Trade Groups and businesses working on this issue: The American Chemistry Council; The Consumer Specialty Products Association; Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates.

Hired Guns: Ogilvy Government Relations; Bergeson & Campbell; Conrad Law & Policy Counsel

Bans for dangerous pesticides, fines for lawbreakers
EPA is once again using its authority under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and the Food Quality Protection Act to re-evaluate pesticides with an eye toward banning anything found to pose an unreasonable risk to people, the environment, or both. In a few short months, EPA has forced Bayer CropScience to phase out both Endosulfan and Aldicarb, and has gotten serious about its long overdue re-evaluation of Atrazine, a weed killer made by Syngenta. At the same time, EPA has stepped up fines against companies that break the rules. The most recent example was a $2.5 million fine levied against Monsanto.

On another front, a coalition of environmental and consumer groups, led by Beyond Pesticides, a Washington,D.C.-based non-governmental organization, has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration and EPA to ban Triclosan, an antimicrobial agent. Both Triclosan and a related compound, Triclocarban, are used to stop the growth of bacteria, fungi and mildew in soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, cosmetics, socks, toys and other personal care products and consumer goods. (It is regulated by both agencies for different uses.) 

Studies using cutting-edge molecular technology, conducted at the University of California-Davis by the investigators participating in the Superfund Research Program headed by Dr. Bruce Hammock, show that Triclosan and Triclocarban may affect calcium signals and sex hormones, respectively. These fundamental mechanisms are essential for a host of biological processes, from muscle contractility to neurodevelopment to hormonal regulation.

BASF, the chief maker of Triclosan used in the U.S., declined to comment. But in a letter to Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, BASF said Triclosan is safe. However, Markey has pressed FDA into another review, leading BASF and the companies that use Triclosan to wage a major battle to keep it on the market. EPA said it will not revisit the issue until 2013.  Markey has called on businesses to stop using it.  

Another chemical in the news right now is MIDAS, a broad-spectrum soil fumigant made by Arysta LifeSciences.  Intended as a substitute for Methyl bromide, which was being phased out, MIDAS’s application for approval was opposed by a highly regarded group of scientists, who said the fumigant, which contains Methyl iodide, causes cancer.

Arysta hired the company J. Scott Jennings’ works for, Peritus Public Relations. Jennings was a White House deputy political director under George W. Bush.

According to Peritus’s website, the company “developed a streamlined messaging for all project team members and a communications plan to get a message to the growers who needed the fumigant and to regulators. … The Result: Arysta received EPA registration in October 2007. State-level registrations are now under way, and Peritus is spearheading the product launch.”  Use of MIDAS was subject to a long debate in California, but is likely to be approved shortly for use there. Meanwhile, other states and EPA are taking another look.

Major trade groups and  businesses working on these issues: Arysta LifeSciences; The American Cleaning Institute; BASF; Bayer CropScience; Colgate-Palmolive; CropLife America; Monsanto; Procter & Gamble;  Syngenta.

Hired Guns: The Alpine Group; Peritus Public Relations; Patton Boggs  

Through the Revolving Door: J. Scott Jennings, senior strategist, Peritus Public Relations, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, deputy White House political director, and deputy to senior adviser Karl Rove.

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Sheila Kaplan