On August 21, 2007 the leaders of the three nations of North America (US President Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon) announced that their respective Environmental Agencies will coordinate efforts to accelerate and strengthen national and regional chemical assessment and management in North America. This so called Montebello Agreement is part of the Security & Prosperity Partnership between the three countries.
According to the Montebello Agreement, the United States has agreed to complete risk characterizations by 2012 on more than 9,000 chemicals produced above 25,000 pounds per year. The regional agreement also provides for the sharing of scientific information and technical understanding, best practices and research on new approaches to chemical testing and assessment. The agreement establishes additional goals to be met by 2020, which include creating and updating chemical inventories in all three countries, as well as coordinating the management of chemicals in North America as outlined in other international agreements.
The U.S. commitment to complete assessments on the 9,000 chemicals will apply the results of USEPA's work on High Production Volume (HPV) chemicals and extend efforts to moderate production volume chemicals. In addition to building on the HPV Challenge, the agreement will also expand on Canada's recent Chemical Management Program that categorizes chemicals for review, assessment, and management. USEPA plans to use the Canadian results as a starting point for U.S. efforts to assess the hazards of moderate-volume chemicals, using available data and hazard estimation approaches to prepare initial scientific assessments. As discussed previously, the HPV program challenged the U.S. chemical industry to provide the public with basic health and safety data on chemicals that are manufactured or used in quantities in excess of a million pounds a year. To date, the USEPA released two rounds of initial reports evaluating the potential hazards of HPV chemicals, based on a screening level analysis using the automated HPVIS database system. Additional hazard characterizations are expected periodically until all of the chemicals for which data were submitted as part of the HPV Challenge have been covered.
In addition to the hazard characterizations, the USEPA expects to release the first series of risk assessments shortly (initially supposed to be released in late January, none have yet to be posted). Whereas the hazard characterizations only evaluate inherent hazard (e.g., toxicity or persistence in the environment), the risk characterizations will incorporate potential exposure [keeping in mind that risk = hazard x exposure; no exposure means no risk even there is inherent hazard].
Both critics and proponents also see the Montebello Agreement as an attempt to offer a North American alternative to the new REACH program in Europe (see my related article).
So, are chemicals now safe?