Low marks for voluntary chemicals program

Report on HPV Challenge reveals missed deadlines, data quality concerns

More than a year and a half after it was supposed to be completed, the voluntary federal program to deliver hazard data on the most widely used chemicals is still well away from making good on its promises.

Environmental Defense's report, High Hopes, Low Marks: A Final Report Card on the High Production Volume Chemical Challenge [PDF], documents the shortcomings: companies have yet to provide much of the promised data and the government faces big hurdles in filling remaining data gaps and addressing data quality concerns.

When it launched the HPV Challenge in 1998, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged there were huge gaps in publicly available hazard data even for HPV chemicals (those produced in or imported into the U.S. in amounts equal to or exceeding one million pounds annually). Its aim was to voluntarily enlist manufacturers of HPV chemicals to develop and make publicly available a "base set" of screening-level hazard information on their chemicals.

The six metrics of our report card

Because the Challenge is voluntary, it sidesteps the significant legal burdens EPA must meet in order to compel testing of chemicals. By the same token, however, EPA also has limited recourse to ensure full participation by manufacturers or the timely submission and high quality of hazard data sets for HPV chemicals. Our new report assessed both the chemical industry's and EPA's performance under the HPV Challenge, on each of six "metrics."  These measure the extent to which:

  • manufacturers sponsored their HPV chemicals;
  • program commitments (initial and final submissions) were met;
  • EPA has compelled information development for unsponsored HPV chemicals;
  • initial submissions were reviewed by EPA;
  • information submitted by sponsors is complete and of high quality; and
  • submitted information has been made readily publicly accessible and usable.

Barely passing grades for chemical industry and EPA

Based on grades assigned on the individual metrics, the chemical industry earned an overall grade of D and EPA an overall grade of C minus.

The report also discusses the status of two essential next steps:

  • EPA assessment of the Challenge data, where it is making good progress but is also finding that data gaps remain even in final submissions, and
  • industry commitments to develop data on emerging HPV chemicals — those reaching HPV production levels since the Challenge was launched — where progress is far from satisfactory.

The report notes that the Challenge is developing and making public basic hazard information for more chemicals in much less time than prior efforts. However, the program's serious shortcomings offer important "lessons learned" that are relevant not only in completing the Challenge, but also to the design and execution of voluntary environmental initiatives in general.

Find out more

See Environmental Defense's earlier status reports on the HPV Challenge:

And read the report that started it all, our landmark 1997 report:

Download the report

PDF High Hopes, Low Marks Adobe Reader [PDF] (861 kb)

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