Senate funding proposal to eliminate EPA’s IRIS program is a public health debacle

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Among other things, IRIS chemical reviews are used to inform clean-up decisions at Superfund and other contaminated sites, set standards to ensure clean drinking water, assess health risks from toxic air emissions, and evaluate health risks of chemicals in commerce. These are all legally mandated activities stipulated under different laws to ensure the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the lands where we work, live, and play are safe.

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Appropriations majority posted their version of the FY2018 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill online (see bill here and accompanying explanatory statement here; see the minority’s summary response here). The legislation lays out spending measures for a number of agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  In releasing the bill yesterday, the majority has bypassed the amendment and markup process.

Among other cuts, the bill eliminates the EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program. At best a small fraction of its responsibilities – and only one-third of its funding – would be re-allocated to the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP).

If realized, this short-sighted move would be a debacle in terms of protecting public health from harmful chemical exposures.

[A short fact sheet on IRIS and implications of eliminating it is available here.]

Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence| Leave a comment

More questions than answers: EDF submits extensive questions to EPA in advance of public meeting on new chemical reviews

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Environmental Defense Fund yesterday submitted questions to EPA that we hope are answered by the agency at the public meeting it is convening on December 6th on changes to its new chemicals reviews.

Despite providing some new documents in advance of the public meeting, details about EPA’s new policies and practices for reviewing new chemicals under the reforms made to TSCA by the Lautenberg Act remain scant.  We identified a number of serious concerns when these changes were first announced by Administrator Pruitt in a news release issued on August 7 – concerns that the meeting background materials EPA has provided only serve to heighten.

The questions we submitted today relate to our concerns in the following topics:

  • The statutory and scientific basis for EPA’s new policies, the timing of their application, and omissions from the new framework
  • EPA’s plan to use so-called “non-5(e) SNURs” in lieu of consent orders
  • Recent policy changes not included in EPA’s agenda for the public meeting
  • Public access to information
  • Confidential business information claims
  • Use of section 5(e) SNURs

EDF has been raising concerns for some time now over the recent redirection of the new chemicals program starkly away from the approach taken following last year’s enactment of the Lautenberg Act.

Many of the questions we’ve just submitted were formally submitted by letter to EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) more than 3 months ago, on August 16, 2017.  Unfortunately, we have yet to receive responses to them.  We hope they will be addressed at the December 6th meeting.

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Regulation, TSCA Reform| Tagged , | Leave a comment

EPA’s latest analysis shows perchlorate risks to fetal brain development

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Pursuant to a consent decree with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing drinking water regulations to protect fetuses and young children from perchlorate, a toxic chemical that inhibits the thyroid’s ability to make the hormone T4 essential to brain development. The rulemaking is part of a long process that began in 2011 when the agency made a formal determination that Safe Drinking Water Act standards for perchlorate were needed. Under the consent decree, EPA should propose a standard by October 2018.

In the latest step in that process, EPA’s scientists released a draft report in September that, at long last, answers questions posed by its Science Advisory Board in 2013: does perchlorate exposure during the first trimester reduce production of T4 in pregnant women with low iodine consumption? Does reduction in maternal T4 levels in these women adversely affect fetal brain development? According to EPA’s scientists, the answers are Yes and Yes.

For several years, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have developed and refined a model that would predict the effect of different doses of perchlorate on levels of T4 in pregnant women. The latest version of the model addresses women during the first trimester, especially those with low iodine intake. This is important because iodine is essential to make T4 (the number four indicates the number of iodine atoms present in the hormone); perchlorate inhibits its transport from the blood into the thyroid. The risk of perchlorate exposure to fetuses in the first trimester is greatest because brain development starts very early and is fully dependent on maternal T4. If the mother gets insufficient iodine to offset the perchlorate inhibition, she will not produce enough T4 for the fetal brain to develop properly. When free T4 (fT4) levels are low but without increase in thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), the condition is known as hypothyroxinemia. When T4 production is lowered further, the pituitary gland releases TSH to increase T4 production by a feedback loop mechanism.

Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, Emerging Science, EPA, FDA, Food, Health Policy, perchlorate, Public Health, Regulation| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EPA proposes limits on hypochlorite bleach to reduce degradation to perchlorate

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Every 15 years, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) reviews the safety of registered pesticides. The current cycle ends in 2022. As part of that process, the agency is evaluating the safety of hypochlorite bleaches. In January 2017, EPA decided it would consider the risks posed by degradation of the hypochlorite into perchlorate.

This is important for two reasons: 1) degraded bleach is less effective as a pesticide, and 2) perchlorate is a chemical that interferes with the production of thyroid hormone, a critical hormone for fetal and infant brain development.

On September 22, EPA proposed changes to the pesticide label to minimize the degradation for hypochlorite bleach used to disinfect drinking water, and the agency is accepting comments until November 21, 2017. The label would advise users to:

  • Minimize storage time;
  • Maintain pH of the solution between 11 to 13;
  • Minimize exposure to sunlight;
  • Store at lower temperatures; and
  • If practical, dilute with cool softened water upon delivery.

EDF submitted comments to EPA supporting EPA’s proposal and requesting specific changes to the proposed language, including making the advice to users mandatory. We also asked the agency to extend the label requirements to hypochlorite bleach used to treat produce and to disinfect food handling equipment. Bleach appears to be one of several significant sources of perchlorate contamination of food. Improving management conditions will reduce degradation and preserve effectiveness regardless of the whether the bleach is used in drinking water or to treat vegetables.

EPA’s proposal is an interim decision. We also were pleased to see that OPP is committed to continue working with EPA’s Office of Water (OW) in its assessment of the risks of perchlorate to pregnant women and young children. We asked OPP to incorporate the OW’s findings in additional interim registration decisions for all uses of hypochlorite bleaches.

 

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, perchlorate, Public Health, Regulation| Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Historic court decision on lead-based paint in California court of appeals

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Yesterday, after three years of deliberations, California’s Appellate Court for the Sixth District held that three defendant companies – Sherwin-Williams Company, NL Industries, and ConAgra Grocery Products[1]— created a public nuisance in ten plaintiff jurisdictions in the state by promoting the use of lead-based paint in the interior of residences built before 1951 even though they had actual knowledge of the harm the paint would pose to children. The case now goes back to the trial court to determine the amount that defendants must pay into a fund to remediate pre-1951 homes with lead-based paint in those jurisdictions and to appoint a suitable receiver to manage the fund.

The Court of Appeals’ decision requires remediation of the lead-based paint, but not its complete removal, in the ten California jurisdictions that were plaintiffs in the case. The jurisdictions are: seven counties, Santa Clara, Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano, and Ventura; two cities, Oakland and San Diego; and the city and county of San Francisco.

The case, which began in 2000, rests on public nuisance law in California. While all states prohibit public nuisances to protect the public from threats to their health and safety, the requirements vary significantly among the states and rely heavily on precedent set in prior state court decisions. In California, a public nuisance action requires proof that a defendant knowingly created or assisted in the creation of a substantial and unreasonable interference with a public right. The defendants must have actual knowledge of the public health hazard.

In 2010, the California Supreme Court overruled a previous decision by the trial court and provided key interpretations of public nuisance law that shaped yesterday’s court decision. While the paint companies are expected to appeal this decision to the California Supreme Court, the decision is likely to stand because the Appellate Court hewed closely that court’s 2010 decision.

The Appellate Court for the Sixth District was reviewing a 2014 trial court’s decision that the Sherwin-Williams Company, NL Industries, and ConAgra Grocery Products must pay $1.15 billion to remediate homes built before 1978 with lead-based paint in the plaintiff’s jurisdiction. The three judge panel of the Court of Appeals narrowed the scope of the trial court’s decision from homes built before 1978 to those built before 1951. The panel found that there was insufficient evidence that the three companies had promoted lead-based paint for interior residential use after 1950, even though they may have sold the paint after that date.

Similar cases had been brought in other states including Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island. In 2008, the Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned a trial court decision finding paint companies liable for the state’s public nuisance law. The California court found its case was different because it involved an extensive assessment of voluminous evidence presented at trial. The other cases were decided on pleading and did not get to the merits of the evidence.

While lead-based paint is not the only source of lead exposure to children, it is the most significant for those children living in homes with lead-based paint, especially when the paint is deteriorated. Thousands of children still live in homes with lead-based paint hazards – with poor and minority children at greatest risk. This court decision is a first step that will hold companies responsible and result in the removal of toxic lead paint in homes across California and may serve as a roadmap for other states.

[1] ConAgra was a defendant because it had owned Fuller Paint Company’s liabilities through a series of mergers.

Posted in Health Policy, lead, Public Health| Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tore apart our happy home”: Another chemical embraced by Dourson and Beck is contaminating the drinking water supply in Memphis and across the country

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

[Use this link to see all of our posts on Dourson.]

That lyric from a Chuck Berry signature song, “Memphis, Tennessee,” takes on a haunting new meaning in light of the latest evidence of contamination of the Memphis Sand aquifer, a main drinking water source for the city, with the highly toxic solvent tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene (PCE), or more commonly PERC).  Lest there be any doubt about the human toll this is taking, read this local woman’s heart-wrenching story.

The source of PERC in this case is a former dry cleaning business that is now a hazardous waste site, and because of Sharri Schmidt’s case is now nominated to become a Superfund site.  The chemical is still widely used in dry cleaning as well as in many other uses.  It’s a probable human carcinogen, and is also toxic to the brain, kidney and liver.

As I write, Dourson and Beck are making decisions that will help determine how the risks of PERC and other chemicals are assessed and whether or not they need to be regulated.

Unfortunately, Schmidt is far from alone.  PERC contamination of drinking water is widespread in this country.  To name just a few, have a look at these stories from towns and cities in North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada, Arizona, Montana, and New York.

Data compiled by the Environmental Working Group from local water utilities shows that PERC was detected in tap water samples taken by water utilities in 44 states that serve 19 million people.

One might hope and think that affected local communities could turn to the US Environmental Protection Agency for help in such situations.  The sad truth is that under the Trump administration this may well not be the case.  Trump has nominated Michael Dourson to lead EPA’s chemical safety office, who, despite the fact that he’s yet to be confirmed, is already working at EPA as a special advisor to Administrator Scott Pruitt.  And Pruitt has already installed as a political appointee to that office Nancy Beck, who until May was a senior official at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the chemical industry’s main trade association.

So what do Dourson and Beck have to do with PERC?   Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence, TSCA Reform| Tagged | 1 Response
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