Reveal News exposes Trump Administration’s disregard for protecting the public from a highly dangerous chemical: 5 key takeaways

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

This weekend, Elizabeth Shogren at Reveal News published an in-depth investigative report and hour-long radio segment delving into the Trump EPA’s latest abandonment of science and its serious consequences for public health.  The story focuses on the ubiquitous solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), a known human carcinogen and neurotoxicant that is also linked to birth defects at very low levels of exposure.

In reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 2016, Congress directed EPA to conduct comprehensive reviews of the risks posed by TCE and other widely used chemicals.  EPA was charged with identifying risks both to the general public and to “vulnerable subpopulations,” including pregnant women, infants, workers, and others.

EPA’s draft risk evaluation of TCE was released on February 21.  It suffers from many of the same gaping flaws as do EPA’s draft risk evaluations for other chemicals.  Once again, EPA has utterly failed to carry out the clear intent of the law, putting our health at greater risk.

  • EPA has ignored all exposures of the general population to TCE that arise from releases of the chemical to air, water and land – amounting to millions of pounds annually.
  • EPA has once again assumed, without any supporting data, that workers will wear personal protective equipment and that it will be effective in eliminating or reducing exposures.
  • EPA has inflated the acceptable level of risk of cancer that will allow workers to be exposed to as much as 100 times more of the chemical.

“This decision is grave. It not only underestimates the lifelong risks of the chemical, especially to the developing fetus, it also presents yet another example of this administration bowing to polluters’ interests over public health.”

Dr. Jennifer McPartland

But in this new draft EPA has gone even further in abandoning both science and the law.  Reveal’s exposé identifies key changes made at the 11th hour to the draft that were forced on career staff at the agency by the White House.

Here are five key takeaways from the Reveal story: 

  1. The Trump administration overruled EPA’s own scientists, forcing the agency to set a safety level for TCE that is 500 times more lax than the agency has used for nearly two decades.
  2. By obtaining and comparing drafts of an EPA risk evaluation of TCE before and after the Trump White House intervened, Reveal found that virtually every mention of TCE’s linkage to fetal heart defects – the key health effect driving all past agency risk levels set for TCE – has been purged from the draft EPA has released to the public.
  3. The changes the White House forced on EPA career scientists bear all of the fingerprints of Nancy Beck, a former senior chemical industry official who moved to the White House last year after running the toxics office at EPA starting in May 2017.
  4. EPA granted special access to the chemical industry, inviting its representatives to present findings of a study the industry paid for that sought to rebut the strong evidence linking TCE to fetal heart defects.
  5. While the weakening changes made to the draft have long been a priority for the chemical industry, the Department of Defense also lobbied heavily for them. DOD has hundreds of sites across the country that are contaminated by TCE, many of which are exposing military personnel to dangerous levels of the chemical and must be cleaned up.  So, like industry, it has a strong conflict of interest in pressing EPA to set a far more lax safety standard for TCE than the science dictates.  DOD added its clout to that of the chemical industry and anti-regulatory forces embedded in the White House and EPA to force changes to the draft.

Reveal News’ compelling story dives deeply into all of this and more, putting a human face on this unfolding tragedy.

As EDF’s senior scientist Dr. Jennifer McPartland noted in the Reveal story:  “This decision is grave. It not only underestimates the lifelong risks of the chemical, especially to the developing fetus, it also presents yet another example of this administration bowing to polluters’ interests over public health.”

We urge you to take the time to read and listen to this important story.

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