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EPA Shifts Staff Away From ‘Safer Choice’ Chemical Labeling Program (1)

Feb. 27, 2018, 4:11 PMUpdated: Feb. 27, 2018, 9:38 PM

A third of the EPA’s pollution prevention staff in the chemicals office is being transferred to other responsibilities in the same office.

EPA’s pollution prevention staff—which run its Safer Choice product labeling program that has proven popular with companies—will be cut from 15 to 10 people to boost the number of staff working on other chemical programs, including the many new responsibilities the agency has under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) amendments of 2016, sources said.

Transferring staff to focus on TSCA makes sense given the agency’s heavy workload in implementing the law, yet cleaning and household product companies continue to support the Safer Choice program, industry officials from those sectors told Bloomberg Environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice program, formerly known as Design for the Environment, allows qualifying cleaning and other products to carry one of the Safer Choice logos offered for various products that meet environmental criteria. Specifically, products must be certified to show each ingredient is among the safest for the function it provides, according to the Safer Choice website.

The EPA’s chemicals office announced the transfer in staff duties at a Feb. 27 town hall, according to an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg Environment and discussed with agency and industry officials familiar with its details.

The Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 budget request seeks to eliminate the entire pollution prevention program, despite the popularity of the Safer Choice program among sectors of the industry.

Amway Corp., BASF Corp., and Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., are among the chemical producers, cleaning product manufacturers, and retailers that received Safer Choice awards in 2017 recognizing goods they made and sold.

‘Strategic Choice’

The EPA is making “smart strategic choices” by reassigning existing staff to work on one of its top priorities—implementing TSCA—Steve Caldeira, president & CEO of the Household & Commercial Products Association, told Bloomberg Environment.

Without adequate funding and staff for its core chemical responsibilities, the EPA could be forced to delay decisions that could help useful new products reach the market, he said.

“Safer choice has worked; is working,” Caldeira said. Yet, there may be room to tweak the program to make it more effective, he said. “We remain optimistic that it will continue and will continue to grow.”

The association is exploring the potential creation of a coalition that would work to create more awareness of Safer Choice, he said. “The coalition is not about securing additional funding or new funding for Safer Choice, but about explaining the benefits of the program,” to consumers, lawmakers, and other parties, Caldeira said.

Brian Sansoni, vice president of sustainability initiatives at the American Cleaning Institute, told Bloomberg Environment the EPA’s decision to shift staff isn’t ideal, but it’s pragmatic.

Ideally, the EPA would have sufficient staff to manage its chemical responsibilities and the Safer Choice program, which the cleaning institute’s members support, he said.

“A fully implemented chemical safety act will speed innovative chemistries and products to market,” Sansoni said, referring to the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, which amended TSCA in 2016. “We hope it would have a robust safer choice program, which a lot of our members participate in and value.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bloombergenvironment.com