- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 21, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The busybodies at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are at it again - attacking substances that have been used without incident by millions of consumers, doctors and manufacturers for decades. In its latest guerrilla action launched against demonstrably safe substances, the agency is deploying what is fast becoming its weapon of choice - the Toxic Substances Control Act - to target siloxanes, widely used silicone-based substances.

If the EPA continues with this latest Chemical Action Plan (CAP) against siloxanes, hundreds of consumer products and medical instruments, from syringes to pacemakers, will become more costly and less effective. Unfortunately, such concerns as saving lives and improving medical technology count for little when balanced against EPA’s zeal to protect the American consumer from all manner of real and perceived “dangers.”

The battle against siloxanes is part of the EPA initiative announced a year ago by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, to employ the chemicals management program authorized by the Toxic Substances Control Act to identify “chemicals that pose a concern to the public.” Under Ms. Jackson’s initiative, the agency would then move “quickly to … address the risks [the chemicals of concern] may pose,” and then launch “appropriate action.” The absurd vagueness of this mission - identifying chemicals that may be a “concern” to the public - should have set off alarm bells for every manufacturer or user of any substance or device that employs at any stage of its manufacture or use, a chemical of any nature.

Sure enough, in March, the EPA began listing specific chemicals for possible action “plans.” In August, the federal nannies zeroed in on siloxanes as meeting the criteria for regulators’ “concern” and “action”; and are in danger of being limited in their commercial uses. And as with other chemicals targeted for EPA action, moving against siloxanes would adversely affect virtually every consumer in the country.

On one level, going after siloxanes might appear to be an easy target for the do-gooders at EPA. After all, these silicone derivatives are used to provide lubrication for what the EPA operatives might consider non-essential consumer products such as lipsticks and chapsticks. Siloxanes are essential ingredients for such products because they not only possess excellent lubrication characteristics, but are odorless, colorless, and nonallergenic. Beyond their importance for the multibillion-dollar cosmetic industry, siloxanes are employed in the manufacture of a range of other consumer products, from insulation to tires, and from cleaning supplies to electric transformer cooling fluids.

In the medical devices sector, as well, the cost of pulling siloxanes off the market would be felt keenly. This long-used and obviously nontoxic substance provides unparalleled benefit in the manufacture of extremely thin and flexible hypodermic needles. The chemical is used to reduce friction for numerous prosthetic devices, implants such as pacemakers, dental molds, medical adhesives and contact lenses.

Even if the EPA stops short of finding some basis on which to declare siloxanes “toxic,” moving forward with the anti-siloxane CAP would cause at least some companies to start pulling the chemical from manufacturing processes, for fear of later lawsuits and further EPA actions. This would increase prices and decrease the availability of certain products now using siloxanes, and would slow development of new products.

Interestingly, the EPA moves against siloxanes come even as other governments, including that of the European Union - an entity not known for hesitancy when it comes to declaring chemicals to be “hazardous” or toxic - have concluded that siloxanes pose no hazards to human health. The Canadians have come to the same conclusion.

These actions by the EPA also are taking place as the United States struggles to free itself from a devastating economic downturn. The recovery would be slowed significantly if the EPA is permitted formally to demonize a product as widely and beneficially employed as siloxanes.

Bob Barr represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives and now practices law in Atlanta.

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