EPA refuses to extend TCE comment deadline, ignoring requests from Congress, health groups

Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director and Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager. 

Yesterday, in the midst of the COVID-19 national emergency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) closed the comment period on an extremely flawed draft risk evaluation on the toxic chemical, trichloroethylene (TCE).

Due to the many scientific and legal concerns raised by the draft risk evaluation, and its significance for any future regulation of TCE, the draft needs thorough and careful review from experts, the public, and other affected stakeholders. However, EPA refused to delay the deadline for the draft risk evaluation’s comment period, despite the growing hardships and major disruptions resulting from the current COVID-19 crisis.  EPA now seems intent on racing to the finish line with its flawed evaluation, ignoring multiple requests to ensure the document is fully vetted:

  • Congress: In two separate letters from the House and Senate, Members of Congress raised concerns with EPA moving forward with various rulemakings and scientific reviews without sufficient opportunity for expert and public input in light of the pandemic – explicitly referencing the TCE draft risk evaluation as a prime example.
  • Health groups: Health organizations whose staff and members are on the front lines of the pandemic requested that EPA extend the public comment period until after the national emergency is lifted due to severe capacity constraints. EPA did not respond.
  • Impacted communities: In early March, nearly 300 people from communities grappling with TCE contamination asked EPA to hold a public meeting to allow them “to ask questions of the agency and engage in critical dialogue.” EPA denied the request.

EPA also ignored EDF’s request to delay the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) peer review of the draft evaluation given the inopportune timing and inability for key peer reviewers to participate. The agency plowed forward with its originally scheduled meeting anyway, failing to publicly acknowledge that key public health panelists were absent as a result of new constraints and responsibilities brought about by COVID-19.

Yesterday, EDF submitted our comments on the draft risk evaluation, detailing the numerous ways in which the assessment is both scientifically flawed and illegal. And over 17,000 EDF members signed comments urging the EPA to protect health by fixing the many problems in the draft risk evaluation.

However, there are many other stakeholders whose input is critical to a robust review process. As a result of EPA rushing forward, these individuals and organizations are unable to participate, leaving a void of key expertise and perspectives vital to improving the risk evaluation. For example, health organizations have particularly important expertise relevant to EPA’s decision to sideline fetal heart defects linked to even low levels of TCE exposure.  And community groups living with TCE contamination deserve the opportunity to directly engage the agency on its illegal and rash decision to ignore all human exposures to TCE via air, water, and soil in their backyards.

At a time when our country is counting on scientific experts, health organizations, and front-line workers to get us through a national health emergency, it is unacceptable that EPA is rushing ahead without their full engagement, particularly with a chemical as dangerous to public health as TCE. There’s simply too much at stake.

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