Massachusetts Businesses Struggling With
Regulations on Chemicals
Industry leaders find the current regulatory process overly
burdensome and costly
Is Massachusetts being unfair to industries that use and manufacture chemical products?
Has it decided that they are all "evil" and is it driving them out of the state? That’s what
business leaders are saying in a vehement disagreement with the state as to the best way to
control toxic chemicals and the emissions resulting from them.
November 1--Industry leaders and government officials disagree on the success of
cleanup programs, the necessity for more regulations and the Toxic Use
Reduction Act, which is before the legislature for renewal.
Industry leaders find the current regulatory process overly burdensome and
costly. They also claim that it puts them at a competitive disadvantage with
competitors in other states. They showed up in large numbers to voice their
displeasure when the Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture held a
hearing on the "Toxic Use Reduction Act" at the Statehouse in September.
Passed by a unanimous vote of the Massachusetts legislature in 1990 to spur a
reduction in the use of environmentally repugnant toxic chemicals, the act may be
expanded to include more sectors of the economy and made easier for businesses
Since 1990, Massachusetts industries claim to have decreased their chemical use
by 201 million pounds, or 24 percent, and have decreased their waste generation
by nearly 44 million pounds, or 41 percent. In addition, they have reduced their
air and water emissions by 16.2 million pounds – an 80 percent reduction in
permitted releases, say industry leaders.
Environmentalists, however, dispute the industry figures on reduction. This led
Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) to tell representatives of both sides that he was
"frustrated with trying to get agreement on the facts." He asked how he and other
members of the Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee were supposed to
make decisions when each side gave them a distinctly different set of "facts."
Many legislators and environmentalists say toxic chemicals, even if disposed of
according to environmental laws, harm the environment because they may still end
up in our landfills or emitted into the air through smokestacks. Some say the mere
presence of toxic chemicals is hazardous to employees who work in their
proximity because of potential spills and fire.
Industry officials who work with these chemicals say the requirements to report
and document their use to state officials are burdensome and raise costs. The
companies are also required regularly to submit a plan to state officials on how
they could possibly use fewer toxic chemicals and pay an annual fee because they
use toxic chemicals.
Ernest Whalen, president of HeatBath Corporation, who has 30 employees in
Springfield, told Massachusetts News he must devote 60 man-hours annually
researching a plan to use less toxic chemicals, which he says is wasteful because it
is impossible for him to use fewer toxic chemicals.
Because of the high disposal costs of toxic chemicals, he already has an economic
incentive to use less, so requiring him to submit a plan is pointless, says Whalen.
"The act is a total waste of time for us. We are forced to develop a plan for
nothing. It will not help the environment," he says.
Whalen also pays a fee of $5,550 annually for no other reason than for his right to
use toxic chemicals, and he must attend a 30-hour education class every two
years to learn about toxic chemicals. He refers to the mandated seminars as
Michael DeVito, executive director of the Massachusetts Technology Alliance,
Inc., says the act operates with the injudicious premise that, "The mere use of
chemicals is less than positive."
"This is a false premise," says DeVito. "It is ludicrous and should be replaced.
The use of chemicals is not bad as long as they are used safely and responsibly.
Chemical products such as chlorine are used to clean drinking water and
therefore promote a longer life span."
DeVito estimates the act has cost Massachusetts companies $65 million since its
inception, and since businesses in most states are not required to comply with the
act, it gives Bay State companies a competitive disadvantage.
Mere Presence is a Hazard
But Rep. Douglas W. Petersen (D-Marblehead), co-chairman of the Joint
Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture says, "The mere presence of
pounds of toxic chemicals is dangerous because of workplace hazards, fire and
smokestack emissions into the surrounding community." He added that, "The act
can inspire companies to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals, and it is usually
cheaper for them to use less."
Sen. Pacheco, who was a co-sponsor of the 1990 bill, says the act cut down on
illegal pollution because it provided officials with information as to who is using
the chemicals and where they are.
David Lutes, director of the Toxic Use Reduction Program at the state’s
Department of Environmental Affairs, is creating a new toxic-use bill, the draft of
which will be ready this fall. The bill will "streamline" the required reporting of
chemical use by companies, he says.
"Perhaps the act requires too much reporting and we need to reduce that," says
Lutes. "Elements of the reporting are not as useful as we had hoped."
He also says that since some particular companies are already committed to
protecting the environment without additional prodding, then the reporting
regulations detract vital resources from other environmental efforts by the
company. "They may have moved beyond the act so they need more flexibility."
Lutes says the new bill will possibly include other sectors of the economy not
currently under the act’s domain, such as hospitals and universities.
Despite criticism by industry officials that the toxic-use fee is unfair, Lutes says
that part of the act will continue.
Another criticism leveled at the current version is that state officials based in a
laboratory at UMass-Lowell sometimes recommend engaging out-of-state
companies to businesses seeking to clean various items.
"That is what they should be doing," says Lutes vehemently. "The whole purpose
is to clean the product effectively and benignly as possible. The lab is
recommending the best possible cleaning solution or cleaning system and that is
the way it goes."
Some Change is Needed
Rep. Petersen says he agrees there should be some change in the law. "The law is
a fairly blunt tool. Companies like Polaroid say the law is ludicrous because it
requires them to do things they have already done. Not all companies are created
equal, so we have to get rid of this cookie-cutter approach."
For other companies that need prodding to use fewer toxic chemicals, the law is
beneficial, says Petersen.
He adds that if the law is made more flexible, then perhaps the competitive
disadvantage experienced by in-state companies will be lessened.
The law has also faced some criticism from academics who fear that requiring
companies to disclose chemical ingredients makes them become more vulnerable
William H. Lash, a law professor at George Mason University in Virginia and an
authority on public disclosure issues, says, "If I know what chemicals you are
using, I can figure out what you’re making and how much you’re making."
Gina McCarthy, executive secretary for Pollution Control, testified at the
September hearing that her office’s goal is to get a draft of new legislation out to
all stakeholders in October, with the hope of discussion in the legislature in the