Dow Chemical and six other chemical companies yesterday obtained a temporary restraining order halting a federal safety agency from classifying a chemical used in several cleaning products as a cancer-causing agent.
The action in a federal court in Louisiana drew a quick and angry response from Susan King, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which had been poised yesterday to categorize perchloroethylene (Perc) as a carcinogen, a move that would have likely resulted in the substance eventually being banned.
"We will not be intimidated," King said. She said the court action was an attempt by industry to "torpedo" the commission's new cancer policy.
The CPSC approved the first federal carcinogen policy last June after nearly a year of staff work. The landmark policy provided for a procedure for uniform evaluation of possible cance sources.
Under the new policy, the commission evaluates certain public and private research studies of chemicals, and proceeds to classify them in one of four categories, with Category A being the most serious cancer threat. After classification, the commission acts on the chemical with a ban, label order or any one of several options.
Pec was the first substance to be classified in Category A last July in a preliminary vote of the CPSC. The agency acted after reviewing tests by the National Cancer Institute that indicated the substance "produced a very high incidence of liver cancer in both male and female mice." A final vote was postponed until yesterday, King said, because the commission wanted further test evaluation information.
Yesterday's action represents the first legal challenge to the long, sought after cancer policy. The suit alleges that the public has never been given a chance to comment on the whole CPSC cancer policy before it was put into effect.
Public hearings still must be held by CPSC on the cancer policy, which, although now an interim policy, is nevertheless in effect.
The chemical firms also allege that the commission action to classify Perc as a carcinogen is "arbitrary, capricious and unsupported by the record," and that implementation of such a classification "would inflict serious and irreparable injury on the plaintiffs."
But CPSC's King said the published cancer policy was drawn up "after a great deal of work and effort to meet what we believe to be one of our major responsibilities to the American public."
She said the preliminary decision by the commission to classify Perc as a carcinogen was meant to "indicate to the public that the CPSC believes the existing evidence concerning the carcinogenic potential of the substance is strong, and that further detailed investigation and evaluation of products containing the substance is warrented."
Perc is used in coin-operated dry cleaning machines, liquid drain cleaners, fabric and leather cleaner, stain remover for varnish, fire extinguishers, shoe color and typists correction fluid.
King further attacked certain segments of American industry for trying to keep the government from regulating possible cancer-causing agents.
"It has been clear for some time," she said, "that certain segments of industry are violently opposed to the government even beginning to implement programs to protect the public from cancer causing agents in the workplace, schools, the home and general environment. They hav fought every department and every agency on this front and today they fired their opening gun at the CPSC."
King promised an aggressive fight from her agency. "It is our obligation to the public to see this through to the end." The restraining order remains in effect until a court hearing on Sept. 28.
The other companies joining Dow in the action are Diamond Shamrock Corp., Ethyl Corp., PPG Industries Inc., Stauffer Chemical Co., Vulcan Materials Co., and Louisiana Chemical Association.