Geert Dancet Becomes Secretary General of Helsinki Chemicals Forum

ECHA / Geert DancetGeert Dancet has been appointed Secretary General of Helsinki Chemicals Forum from 1 February 2018 onwards. The next Helsinki Chemicals Forum will take place from 14 to 15 June 2018. It is the 10th anniversary of the event.

Helsinki Chemicals Forum is the leading international special event for chemical safety and chemical management. The event attracts chemical safety experts and decision-makers to Messukeskus in Helsinki every year. As Secretary General, Dancet is responsible for developing the event and assembling a programme of upscale moderated panels, discussions and keynote presentations. Previously, Geert Dancet worked as the Executive Director of The European Chemicals Agency ECHA.

“I am glad that I can continue working with chemical safety,” says Dancet. “In providing the coordination of the annual conference, I will benefit from my extensive expertise and network from my years at ECHA and the European Commission. My aim is to develop the Helsinki Chemicals Forum into an even stronger and globally acknowledged chemical safety event”.

Geert Dancet was interim Executive Director in 2007 and became the first elected Executive Director of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in January 2008. Under his leadership, the Agency successfully managed all regulatory processes of the REACH and CLP regulations. His mandate ended in 2017. Before arriving in Finland, he spent more than 20 years in the European Commission in different positions.

The programme for the Helsinki Chemicals Forum has been prepared by the previous Secretary General – Hannu Vornamo – and the international Programme Committee, which has representatives from the European Commission, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Environment Canada, the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI), the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL, a major global NGO) and Chemical Watch (a leading news service in the field). The Helsinki Chemical Forum thanks Hannu Vornamo for his 10 years of service as Secretary General and is happy to announce that he will now join the Advisory Board.

The Helsinki Chemicals Forum is organised by the Chemicals Forum Association in co-operation with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the European Commission, The European Chemical Industry Council CEFIC, the City of Helsinki, the Chemical Industry Federation of Finland and the University of Helsinki. This event will be held for the 10th time in Messukeskus, Helsinki from 14 to 15 June 2018.

TSCA Inventory Reset Rule to Rely on “Best Available Science”

In the wake of the release of the watered-down TSCA rules, the door has been left open for industry to continue with unsafe chemical management processes. The use of “best available science” to determine a chemical substance’s impact will not apparently be determined by traditional risk assessment methodology – methodology that was typically inadequate as it rarely accounted for the multiple uses and sources of exposure to a given chemical. The proposed draft rules attempted to change this by requiring the EPA to conduct broad reviews of chemicals across their full lifecycles and account for their known, intended, and reasonably foreseen uses. Unfortunately, the final rules allow the EPA to examine only certain use of and exposures to a chemical, with minimal explanation of how these exclusions will be determined. In other words, the final rules allow big loopholes and continued chemical exposures to known hazardous substances. Certainly not the best available science.

Interestingly, the rules on reporting have been “reset” so that all manufacturers and Importers of chemicals for the past 11 years are now subject to a new TSCA reporting requirement under which reports will be due six months after the final rule is published. Known as the TSCA Inventory Reset, it requires the EPA to determine which of the 85,000 chemical substances in the TSCA Inventory are actually active in commerce. To this end, the TSCA Inventory Reset rule sets forth a process to designate chemical substances on the TSCA Inventory as either “active” or “inactive” based on notifications from manufacturers and processors. After the initial Inventory Reset is complete, companies that intend to manufacture or process an inactive substance must notify EPA prior to commencing manufacturing or processing. Once EPA has these reports, it will compile an interim list of active chemical substances.

It’s a first step, but the rule is weak. It only requires reporting of “chemical substances subject to “commercial activity designation.” It does not require reporting for chemicals where the EPA already has equivalent notice of active status. It does not require reporting for chemicals added to the TSCA Inventory list during the 10-year “lookback” period. The exemptions are many. What’s not really addressed is whether the best available science will be used by chemical manufacturers and importers as they compile their reports, particularly since those reports can exclude numerous criteria, such as prior loss of records that provide important information. Excuse me for being cynical, but records are lost all the time when employees leave or are laid off and the ones left can’t find the information. So best available science can deteriorate into best available guess.

What Can be Gained by Eliminating the Chemical Safety Board?

Removing Independent Agencies Not the Way to Balance the Federal Budget

CSB-Video

Would you want to live near a chemical plant that ignores chemical safety? That’s like living next to an accident that is waiting to happen, an accident that might seriously impact you. And even when you live or work in areas remote from such facilities, you could still be affected since chemicals can travel by air, by water, and be retained by soil. The 2014 Elk River chemical spill in which a damaged storage tank spilled crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) upstream of the principal West Virginia American Water intake and treatment center is a case in point.

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) exists to ensure chemical management safety. It is an independent federal agency that investigates serious chemical accidents to search for their causes and make recommendations to prevent a recurrence. Unlike the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the CSB does not perform enforcement, does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations based upon their findings. What it does provide is a very necessary layer of assessment and accountability that no other agency performs. It is a watchdog with a focus on chemical plant safety, an eye on industry to ensure adherence to sane and sensible chemical management, which should but doesn’t always happen.

The results of their investigations are published, enabling the public to see what went wrong and why. If negligence is part of those results, everyone will know and financial repercussions may result. Certainly negligence can take many forms, from passive neglect (such as lack of safety training) to deliberate actions (such as inappropriate storage containers).

The CSB’s reviews of major accidents have proved significant. Its findings have led to industry standards on worker fatigue and greater reporting of hazardous chemicals to first responders.

Despite all the EPA and OSHA regulations, it is amazingly easy for industry to disregard safety and the impact of that disregard on workers and the community. There just aren’t enough enforcers to go around and double-check for compliance. Yes, reports are required and risk management plans should be in place, but it’s difficult to isolate noncompliance and time-consuming to evaluate what needs to change.

Unfortunately, the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruittt has delayed regulations that were made in response to the 2013 explosion of the fertilizer storage plant in West, Texas. These regulations better define the Risk Management Plan that all such organizations should have in place and are just common sense. In essence, the regulations, which were based on the CSB’s recommendations, were devised to set standards for how companies that own chemical plants, like West Fertilizer, make information available to their surrounding communities so that residents and first responders can prepare for accidents like the explosion.

Does operating the CSB cost money? Of course, but not a lot. It’s not a big money drain on the Federal budget, only receiving some $12 million annually and employing 50 people. If it is eliminated, and the States are expected to perform investigations, that $12 million equals less than $230,000 per State – a ludicrously low sum that would accomplish nothing. Looked at another way, that $12 million is far less than the clean-up cost for a single major accident. Certainly it should be worth it to understand and help prevent chemical catastrophes. Certainly it should be worth it to ensure that the Federal government is not called upon to provide financial disaster relief as it has done time after time, accident after accident.

And yet President Trump wants to eliminate the CSB. Go figure.