Glenn E. Schweitzer
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Glenn E. Schweitzer received his master’s degree in nuclear engineering. He began his career as a Foreign Service Officer, moved to the staff of the Vice President’s Marine Science and Technology Council, and finally accepted a position at the US Agency for International Development. He was then asked to manage the new Office of Toxic Substances (OTS) in the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1974. He had four tasks: to ensure that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) passed quickly; to deal with the “chemical of the month”; to help the Office of Air and Water deal with toxic chemicals under the their legislative authorities—the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act; and to upgrade data, especially testing data, being used throughout EPA.
Believing that the purpose of the OTS and TSCA was to prevent or reduce exposure to harmful chemicals, Schweitzer spent four years visiting producers to learn about their chemicals and relevant procedures. He insisted on the necessity of cost/benefit analysis because TSCA, which had been finalized but not yet passed by Congress, could have a potentially enormous impact on the US economy and on these companies. Schweitzer thought that TSCA was designed to fill regulatory gaps while providing data for use under many laws, using unreasonable risk as the principal criterion for action on chemicals. He thought that Section 8(e) was among the most important sections, as it put on manufacturers the burden of warning the EPA of health risks. This approach relies on conscientiousness but provides clear penalties for noncompliance.
Schweitzer’s staff supported the establishment and conduct of the Interagency Testing Committee (ITC), which included the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the EPA. The EPA’s role was to choose the many chemicals to be tested; ITC would arrange for steps to prioritize, test, and evaluate them. Schweitzer thought that EPA had an important but not decisive role in human health, but had a critical role in environmental matters. He regards as two successes the simultaneous regulation of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) aerosols by the EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the FDA beginning in 1977 which he led; and the persuasion of the producers of vinyl chloride to agree to reduce emissions by eighty percent in three months, and their achievements in doing so, a process that he arranged.
Shortly after TSCA became law, Schweitzer was sent to Cornell University to make way for political appointees at EPA. He spent two years revisiting chemical producers and found that EPA/TSCA had made a large difference; i.e. chemical companies had many more qualified people doing important testing and providing more effective oversight. He believes that this was an important aspect as to how TSCA should work. After Cornell, Schweitzer was appointed Director of EPA’s Environmental Monitoring Systems Laboratory in Las Vegas, Nevada. There he dealt with many complicated chemical exposure and risk issues, including acid rain; Love Canal; Three Mile Island; smelter problems in Dallas, Texas; dioxin contamination in Times Beach, Missouri; and potential nuclear threats at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. The laboratory also was responsible for quality assurance of measurements, which Schweitzer believes is crucial when monitoring contamination.
In general, Schweitzer thinks that Section 6 is sound in that it covers handling, transporting, and labeling of toxics, when necessary. He regrets that some officials wanted too many results too fast and thereby caused delays in passage and implementation of TSCA. Due to delays, many states and companies lost enthusiasm for cooperating with the EPA and introduced their own plans. His concern now is that great efforts will devoted to amending TSCA, primarily for the sake of amending the law, with little likelihood of success, whereas other measures are available to use more effectively the law as written.
US Department of State
Office of the Vice President of the United States
US Agency for International Development
US Environmental Protection Agency
National Research Council
International Science and Technology Center
Table of Contents
Master’s degree in nuclear engineering from California Institute of Technology. Two summers at Argonne National Laboratory. Foreign Service Officer. US Agency for International Development. Marine Science and Technology Council in Office of the Vice President. Asked to manage Office of Toxic Substances, just forming in 1973. Four tasks: ensure prompt passage of Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) passed; deal with chemical of the month; help Office of Air and Water deal with toxics under their legislative authorities, Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act; and upgrade data throughout EPA, especially testing data. Also had to build new office. TSCA mostly already written by J. Clarence Davies and President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Four offices with deputies reporting to administrators; all worked together toward common goal; viz., preventing and reducing exposure to dangerous chemicals. EPA Steering Committee. Schweitzer’s staff small but with significant input.
TSCA is law to fill regulatory gaps. Potential impact of EPA on economy. Necessity for cost/benefit analysis. Four years visiting chemical companies to gather information. Implications of using Section 6 to complement Clean Air, Clean Water, or other authorities. Unreasonable risk as a useful criterion. Asbestos. Quotes Charles Elkins’s regret that EPA did not appeal asbestos decision. Section 8(e) as an important provision of TSCA. Putting burden of testing and notifying EPA on manufacturers. System relies in part on conscientiousness, but with penalties for noncompliance, and protects intellectual property. EPA as implementer, with serious penalties.
Interagency Testing Committee (ITC) established: Health and Human Services (HHS); Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); EPA. EPA’s role to choose chemicals; ITC’s role to prioritize, test, and evaluate. Schweitzer believed EPA did not play decisive role in human health; wanted National Institutes of Health involved. Thought EPA should lead on environmental matters. Congress not very interested. Environmentalists ambivalent. Minor disagreements on wording; every change required Congressional approval. Office of Management and Budget.
Major success with simultaneous regulation of chlorofluorocarbon aerosols (CFC) by EPA, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), FDA. Persuaded CEOs of vinyl chloride producers to agree to reduce emissions by eighty percent in three months. Passage of TSCA. Briefing for new administrators when President Carter took office. Schweitzer sent to Cornell University to make way for political appointees. Spent two years revisiting chemical producers; found TSCA had made huge difference: more qualified people, more testing initiatives, more oversight by Boards of Directors. After two years appointed Director of Environmental Systems Laboratory in Las Vegas. Many important problems: acid rain; Love Canal; Three Mile Island; Dallas smelters; dioxin in Times Beach, Missouri; nuclear attack threats at Los Angeles Olympic Games. After leaving TSCA dealt mostly with Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Superfund, and pesticides. Las Vegas office responsible for quality assurance of measurements throughout the agency, crucial in monitoring chemicals.
TSCA’s credibility diminished by delay in passage of bill. States and companies eager to cooperate. Section 6 proponents divided. Section 6 is important since it addresses transportation, handling, labeling, and restrictions on production. TSCA should not be amended for the sake of amendment. Two weak arguments for amending are (a) hasn’t been amended in thirty-five years, and (b) market needs stability which might be achieved to a limited degree by amendments. TSCA requires comprehensive examination of chemicals.
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.