Introduction - What We Do
OPPT’s work contributes to two of the five major goals outlined by EPA in its 2006 - 2011 Strategic Plan:
- By 2011, prevent and reduce chemical risks to humans, communities, and ecosystems. (Goal 4; Objective 1; Sub-objective 1)
- By 2011, reduce pollution, conserve natural resources, and improve other environmental stewardship practices while reducing costs through implementation of EPA’s pollution prevention programs. (Goal 5; Objective 2; Sub-objective 1)
Chemicals are in just about everything we use. Every day we are surrounded by chemicals -- in fact, the way we live would be impossible without them. Yet, some chemicals can be potentially dangerous to our health and the environment. It's the job of EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) to ensure that commercial and industrial chemicals manufactured, imported, or used in the United States do not pose any unreasonable risks to human health or the environment. And promoting the prevention of pollution before it occurs is central to OPPT's work.
Tens of thousands of chemicals are manufactured, imported, or used in the United States annually. Many new chemicals are being developed each year, and emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology and biotechnology, are changing the types of materials used in commerce and in the environment. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, OPPT establishes reporting, record-keeping, testing, and control-related requirements for new and existing chemicals. Read about OPPT work under TSCA to protect against risks from new, existing, and specific chemicals.
Under the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA) of 1990, the office works to reduce pollution before it occurs through innovative changes in production, operation, and use of raw materials. Read about OPPT’s pollution prevention programs' accomplishments.
Two Different Roles
One of the office's major roles is to serve as a gatekeeper/guardian, using its traditional "command and control" regulatory authorities to keep potentially risky new chemicals out of the market while assessing and managing the potential risks of existing chemicals. The organization's other key role is to promote environmental stewardship and sustainability. OPPT does this through collaborative programs with stakeholders and educational initiatives. Working to eliminate sources of pollution, OPPT creates tools and makes information available to better enable industry and the public to make wise chemical choices. See the new, existing and specific chemicals sections of this report as well as the pollution prevention and cross-cutting programs sections for how OPPT uses the two roles to promote chemical safety nationally and internationally.
From January 2007 through January 2009, OPPT:
- Initiated the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP) in January 2008 to encourage submission and development of data to help provide a firmer scientific foundation for regulatory decisions. As of December 2008, 29 companies and associations submitted information covering 123 nanoscale materials. Seven companies committed to the basic program and four committed to participate in the in-depth program to develop data. On January 12, 2009, EPA released its interim report on the status of the NMSP and possible next steps.
- Required new protections that will help protect children from lead poisoning during renovations and remodeling. OPPT issued a final rule in March 2008 that requires persons renovating or remodeling pre-1978 housing or child-occupied facilities to be certified to use practices that ensure against exposure to lead in paint. On August 21, 2008, EPA issued a proposed rule to modify and lower the existing fees and establish new fees for various EPA certifications. In December 2008, EPA formed a partnership with the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning and HUD to conduct a public service Ad Council advertising campaign to raise awareness of childhood lead poisoning, including renovation hazards.
- Created the Chemical Assessment and Management Program , or "ChAMP," to implement the U.S. commitment to assess and initiate action, where appropriate, on 6,750 high- and moderate-production volume chemicals by 2012. As of December 2008, EPA had developed and posted risk-based prioritizations for 151 HPV chemicals and had posted hazard-based prioritizations for 55 chemicals. After an extensive stakeholder engagement process and careful consideration, EPA announced in September that it will proceed with two enhancements to ChAMP including developing an HPV Challenge-type program for "inorganic" HPV chemicals and resetting the TSCA Inventory to reflect the chemicals actually in commerce. EPA held a public meeting on December 8, 2008, to further engage stakeholders in this effort.
- Responded to three TSCA Section 21 petitions in 2007 and 2008, including a petition on formaldehyde in pressed wood products. As part of the Agency’s efforts to gain a greater scientific understanding of the potential health risks of formaldehyde's use in pressed wood products, OPPT issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on November 25, 2008, that outlines EPA’s steps to investigate potential actions to protect against risks posed by formaldehyde emitted from pressed wood products used in manufactured homes and other places. OPPT is seeking public input on these issues and is holding a series of public meetings in early 2009.
- Reached a milestone in the PFOA Stewardship Program with member companies' first annual progress reports received and made publicly available in October 2007. In December 2008, OPPT released summary tables of 2008 progress reports.
- Coordinated, for the past two years, the cross-Agency Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) Program which helps communities develop broad-based local partnerships to prioritize and address multiple sources of toxic pollutants in their environment through competitive grants and technical assistance. CARE works with communities to assess and set priorities for risk-reduction activities and helps to promote self-sustaining, community-based partnerships to bring solutions to local risks. Since its first round of cooperative agreement awards in 2005, CARE grants have reached 64 communities in over 32 states and tribes, totaling $10.4 million. In 2009, about $3 million will be available for additional grants.
- Provided, through the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), a set of environmental performance criteria for computers and monitors and a Web-based system that enables manufacturers to accurately declare that their product(s) meet specific environmental criteria. As of January 2009, there were 30 manufacturers with 1053 EPEAT-registered products listed in the EPEAT Product Registry Web page.
- Established the Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative (SDSI), a Design for the Environment (DfE) program to recognize environmental leaders who voluntarily commit to use of safer surfactants in their products. EPA held the SDSI Recognition Ceremony on November 19, 2008, and recognized 40 Champions and 21 Partners.