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Toxic Use Reduction Act: New Bill Aims to Mitigate Good Intentions Gone Awry

By Katherine Robertson, Executive Director, Massachusetts Chemistry & Technology Alliance

Good intentions don't necessarily make good policy.

Such is the case with the Toxic Use Reduction Act, a law enacted more than a quarter-century ago that assesses fees on companies who use certain chemistries and requires that they go through an extensive, time-consuming, and costly planning process to identify safer alternatives. The TURA Program considers the fee "an incentive" to encourage companies to reduce the use of the listed chemistries.

But what happens when manufacturers cannot reduce the amount of TURA-listed chemicals they use? What happens when companies are required to use these chemicals because certain drug product registrations and certain government bid specifications – including those issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – require them to?

In these cases, TURA does not "incentivize" companies to reduce because they cannot reduce; rather, it punishes them because they are required to use certain chemicals if they are to stay in business. The Massachusetts Chemistry & Technology Alliance, Inc., the professional organization representing the manufacturers, users, and distributors of chemistry in the Commonwealth, is working with a coalition of companies and organizations to change that.

House Bill 2934, An Act to Reform the Toxics Use Reduction Act and filed by Rep. John Mahoney (D-Worcester), provides a waiver for those companies required by procurement specifications to use TURA-regulated chemistries. This bill was reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and referred to the House Committee on Ways & Means. It is urgent that industry work with their delegations to get this bill out of Ways & Means and onto the floor.

Besides the waiver provision, H-2934 also increases the time between planning cycles and reduces the number of credits required for re-certification as a toxic use reduction planner. While relatively minor, these changes will provide much-needed relief from some of the soft costs associated with TURA compliance.

While H-2934 is a first step, a broader conversation is needed. TURA is wholly funded by industry and is aggressively pursuing adding additional chemistries to its list, thereby expanding the universe of companies which will be required to report usage and which will be assessed fees. It has shifted its approach from reviewing specific chemicals to regulating classes of chemicals, including some that do not yet exist and/or for which scientific evidence is non-existent or inconclusive. In addition, a fee increase is rumored to be in the works for 2019.

Two years ago, MCTA commissioned a study from a Toxic Use Reduction Planner who, using TRI data, compared the reduction in use of TURA-listed chemistries in Massachusetts with the reductions in six states with no TURA-like program and with comparable industry sectors – Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, and California. The results of the analysis show that while the Commonwealth reduced TRI core chemical wastes by 40% between 1994 and 2013, so did Connecticut (85%), California (47%), New Jersey (51%), Pennsylvania (25%), Ohio (38%), and North Carolina (55%). The data, compiled and analyzed, also shows that the rate of reduction in chemical waste volumes in both Massachusetts and the comparison states has slowed significantly over the past decade, a trend that can be attributed in large part to the modifications and changes made in the mid- and late 1990s as industry responded to new state and federal environmental regulations that required toxics reporting, made the disposal of toxic waste more expensive, and forced specific technologies to be implemented to reduce emissions and waste.

In other words, Massachusetts was in the middle of the pack despite being the only state with a TURA program.

In addition, TURA's own data shows that the number of TURA filers has decreased by more than 50%, and that reductions have virtually flat-lined over the past decade. To quote one MCTA member, "[Achieving further reductions] is like squeezing water from a stone. We have to go through the planning every two years even though there is nothing else to do. It's just a costly exercise."

While H-2934 does not eliminate the TURA program and, in fact, will not rectify many of the problems associated with the law, it is nevertheless an important step. Our hope is that it will be passed and that it will spur changes to a law that was conceived with the best of intentions but which, nearly 30 years later, is desperately in need of updating and change to reflect the new realities of manufacturing in Massachusetts.

For more information on H-2934 and to learn more about MCTA and what it is doing to change the law, visit our website at www.masscta.org.

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