FAIRLAWN, Ohio—The silicone industry is stuck between outdated regulations of decades past and overbearing, ineffective rules that reach well beyond what studies have determined are necessary.
That's the view of Tim Gregory, a member of the Environmental Health and Safety Council of North America and EHS engineer for Shin-Etsu Silicones of America. Gregory described the regulatory climate in a speech at the International Silicone Conference, held May 1-2 in Fairlawn, Ohio.
Gregory said as a member of the council he regularly travels to Washington. An increase in trips to the nation's capital has been indicative of how intense the regulatory roller coaster has become.
“Last couple years I have been there on a bi-weekly basis, from quarterly in 2005,” he said.
The first issue Gregory said is causing complications is budget cuts within all regulatory agencies.
“While you think that might be a good thing, it has caused some problems,” he said. In particular, on the local level in the past an agency might make visits to a company and issue reports of what needs to be fixed. Now it is more likely to just issue fines.
“Instead of trying to get you back into compliance, they're using this opportunity more as a revenue stream to make up their budgets,” he said.
Increased information sharing across agencies, including national, international, state and local, also is a concern. While this, too, sounds like a good thing, Gregory cautions it comes with consequences.
“There's a lack of analysis when that happens,” he said. “Regulations are basically just cut and pasted, like high school students do with their papers now, from one jurisdiction to another without much forethought.”
Gregory cited safe chemicals acts as an example. He said because sometimes regulations are a result of very specific conditions to a region, such as climate, population and industry, it doesn't make sense for one jurisdiction to simply copy over regulations without analyzing the context under which they came about.
States taking individual actions are a huge problem because they don't have the resources to examine the issue as deeply as necessary, he said, and there's little consideration over what will happen as a result of regulating the chemical. He said the definition of what is safe and what is a problem varies widely from each jurisdiction.
“Will it actually help the environment? Will it help health? A lot of times they don't know,” Gregory said.
Web of legislation
This leads to another problem—poorly written regulations and an overreliance on modeling instead of real-world data, the speaker said.
“The legislation as written will take a model that may be somewhat flawed,” he said. “New science will come out—either real-world studies, a better model—but the old model is written into the legislation, and there's no way to go back and put the new science in there, so it's regulated forever.”
Gregory said sometimes there is no process to challenge the rules. “Once you're on their list, it's very difficult to get off of their list.”
The council has had some big victories, though, he said, such as successfully fought overregulation of siloxanes in Canada and with the EPA. But there is still an ongoing battle against lack of understanding of all the issues at hand.
“They lack engineers, experts, toxicologists to properly analyze their regulations,” he said.
Search for middle ground
While Gregory said it was possible to find some middle ground in the regulation arena, the current truth is simple: “They haven't found it yet.”
He said the Toxic Substance Control Act, implemented in 1976 and tweaked by legislation over the years, is the fundamental model the industry is working with right now.
But he said the industry is stuck between “TSCA reform, which I firmly believe needs to happen, to 'OK we're not going to do anything because it's too hard and it's an election year.' ”
Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations also come into play, further complicating the issues necessary for a company to consider. This includes the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, which Gregory called “not very harmonized” because it has multiple versions, and countries are allowed to choose to only adopt certain modules.
He said there's no central database with which companies can keep track of the influx of changes happening for silicones within the regulatory sector. The best way to keep on top of the changes is to remain in constant contact with regulators on local, state and national levels, he said.
“In my 19 years I have never seen this level of unprecedented activity in the regulated environment,” Gregory said.