Warren R. Muir
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Warren Muir received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Amherst College. He then moved to Northwestern University’s PhD program and was captured by the new societal awareness of environmental issues. He joined Students for a Better Environment and with a colleague published the first list of phosphates in detergents. During this time Earth Day originated, and demands for governmental protection took off. Muir was recruited into the Council on Environmental Quality, whose initiatives included the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Safe Drinking Water Acts; these acts would control chemicals through production, distribution, and use instead of the cleanup-contaminate approach used for drugs, food, pesticides, etc. He says the group was small but powerful.
The first hurdle was the lack of knowledge of the universe of chemicals: Who made them, how many were there, how much was there, what were their effects? Should there be a registry, and if so how would it work? The next hurdle was the disagreement between the houses of the U.S. Congress, abetted by lobbying from manufacturers. Finally J. Clarence Davies’ report for CEQ was drafted into legislation and passed as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). At that point it was handed over to the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for implementation. The EPA was slow to figure out how to use TSCA. They first developed a chemical inventory and then rules for production and use of new chemicals. Muir discusses several of TSCA’s rules and their successes and failures.
Muir founded Hampshire Research Associates, which worked in a number of different areas, mostly pollution prevention. Through INFORM, Inc. Muir and David Sarokin made suggestions that led to the formation of the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI); TRI’s chemical analysis of waste led to the Pollution Prevention Act. Hampshire developed the database and wrote the reports for the EPA. Muir moved on to a pollutant release and transfer register for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He says that voluntary actions by manufacturers have also decreased pollution.
Muir says that only small fraction of uses of a wide range of chemicals causes problems; and that uses are dynamic. He believes, therefore, that a centralized denoting of some chemicals as priority chemicals is not useful. He has five points for improvement: choosing a use-based approach; gathering and tracking information; narrowing the definition of “confidential” in confidential business information (CBI), which he says severely limits sharing of information; making producers responsible; and retaining and improving the new-chemical review. Information is crucial and its availability is increasing exponentially with new technology. Muir maintains that an independent review of the EPA and of the various efforts of the states would be illuminating. Both regulators and manufacturers should have kind of a “general duty clause.”
Executive Office of the President
US Environmental Protection Agency
Johns Hopkins University
IDEA*TECH Associates, Inc.
Hampshire Research Associates, Inc.
The Hampshire Research Institute
National Academy of Sciences
Howard Waters Doughty Prize
American Chemical Society Connecticut Valley Student Award
Forris Jewett Moore Award
US Environmental Protection Agency Outstanding Service Award
US Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 Pollution Prevention Award
US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator's Award for Pollution Prevention
Awarded Office Brother (O.ST.J) , in The Most Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem, by H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II
Awarded Commander (C.St.J), in The Most Venerable Officer of St. John of Jersualem, by H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II
National Academies Community Service Award
Table of Contents
Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Amherst College; PhD from Northwestern University. Vietnam War. Beginnings of environmental awareness and concern. Students for a Better Environment. Develops and publishes first list of phosphates in detergents.
Recruited while still finishing thesis. Importance of Earth Day; environmental demands. CEQ initiatives: Clean Water Act; Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); Safe Drinking Water Act; Endangered Species Act. Small group with much power. Control through production, distribution, and use instead of cleanup-contaminate approach.
Defining and describing of chemicals. Disagreements between US Senate and House, especially about new chemicals. Congressional consideration; lobbying from manufacturers. Rules for new chemicals. Passed into law; goes to EPA for implementation. Steven Jellinek. Developing chemical inventory. Core issue problems: defining and restricting confidential business information (CBI); and risk-benefit analysis. Information-sharing severely limited by CBI; crippling expense as well.
Johns Hopkins University. Founded Hampshire, worked on some TSCA projects and on pollution projects for INFORM, Inc. David Sarokin and Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). Waste avoidance, not treatment or disposal. Ronald Outen. EPA to collect and publish database. Hampshire’s and Catherine Miller’s role in report on database. Canada and Mexico later emulating United States. Pollutant release and transfer register for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Voluntary actions by manufacturers. Asbestos in schools; stimulating action by requiring reports on asbestos to local parent-teacher associations.
Throughput evaluation. Accidental vs. deliberate pollution. Mass balance approach. Centralized priority chemicals approach not useful. Information key. New technology yields more possibilities for analysis. General duty clause for EPA and manufacturers. Five points for improvement: use-based approach; gathering and tracking of information; narrowing definition of “confidential” in CBI; making producers responsible; retaining and improving new-chemical review. Section 5 not applicable to nanotech. States serve as labs for different approaches in problem-solving. Sees EPA expanding power; considers power expansion counterproductive.
About the Interviewer
Jody A. Roberts is the Director of the Institute for Research at the Science History Institute. He received his PhD and MS in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and holds a BS in chemistry from Saint Vincent College. His research focuses on the intersections of regulation, innovation, environmental issues, and emerging technologies within the chemical sciences.
Kavita D. Hardy was a research assistant in the Environmental History and Policy Program at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. She received a BA in chemistry and in economics from Swarthmore College.