EDF Health

EPA’s final risk evaluation of trichloroethylene is scientifically flawed and understates risks to workers, the general public and those most susceptible

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

Today the Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its final risk evaluation for trichloroethylene (TCE).  It largely tracks the agency’s draft document, retaining numerous flaws that severely understate the highly toxic chemical’s risks to workers, the general public and those most susceptible to its health impacts.

Among the evaluation’s most serious deficiencies is the abandonment of a bedrock principle of chemical risk assessment: that risk estimates be based on the most sensitive health effect.  Sadly, the final document retains the unprotective approach the Trump White House forced EPA to adopt, as reported in detail by Elizabeth Shogren of Reveal News.

Exposure to TCE is ubiquitous, coming from ambient and indoor air, vapor intrusion from contaminated sites, groundwater and drinking water wells, and food – yet EPA’s evaluation ignores or downplays each of these exposure sources and pathways.

Below we summarize some of the major concerns in EPA’s evaluation that we addressed in detail in our comments.

One silver lining:  Despite its glaring deficiencies, the risk evaluation did find that the great majority of TCE’s conditions of use present unreasonable risks—even as it grossly understated the extent of those risks.  As a result, EPA must now proceed to regulate those activities, providing the new Administration an opportunity to rectify the serious problems created by the Trump EPA.  Read More »

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Righting the ship: A new chance for stronger protections against toxic chemicals

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

In June 2016, Congress passed historic, bipartisan legislation overhauling the Toxic Substances Control Act, the country’s main chemical safety law, to better protect the public from harmful exposure to toxic chemicals. The Trump administration has spent the last four years working to undermine TCSA by driving its implementation dangerously off the rails.

Now, with President-elect Biden set to take the helm in January, there’s a tremendous opportunity not only to repair the damage done by the Trump administration, but also to use the law proactively to ensure that everyone in the country is better protected from hazardous chemicals — with attention to those whose health is most at risk and to communities where exposures are greatest.

Here are five ways to restore sound and legal implementation of the law and strengthen health protections for families across the country.

Read More »

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Industry’s influence over EPA could get even worse: Chemical advisory board nominees rife with conflicts of interest

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

Today Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Union of Concerned Scientists filed comments on EPA’s list of nominees for appointment to its Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC).  The SACC conducts peer reviews of chemical risk evaluations EPA conducts under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

EPA can rectify this sad state of affairs by excluding these and any other conflicted individuals under consideration from membership on the SACC when EPA adds new members.

Our comments identified 19 nominees that have serious actual or potential conflicts of interest that should disqualify them from being appointed to the SACC.  Unfortunately, their inclusion in EPA’s list of nominees suggests either that EPA has not conducted even the most cursory of conflict-of-interest screenings of these nominees, or that the agency intends to flout conflict-of-interest concerns and skew the balance of its science advisors even further in its drive to prioritize the interests of industry over public health and environmental protection.  The most recent example of this is EPA’s appointments or elevation of members on the agency’s Science Advisory Board earlier this month.

Over the past several months, EPA received a slew of nominations for SACC membership of individuals that are employed either by companies with direct financial interest in specific chemicals or related science policy issues that fall within the remit of the SACC, or by consulting firms hired by those companies or their trade associations to represent their interests before EPA.

As extensively documented in the comments we submitted today, these individuals should not be appointed to the SACC because they trigger one or both of the federal requirements for excluding individuals from membership on federal advisory groups:  having potential or actual conflicts of interest, or creating an appearance of a lack of impartiality.  Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, TSCA Reform / Tagged , | Read 1 Response

Two chemicals that remind us why we should exercise caution with the oil industry’s wastewater

Cloelle Danforth, Scientist. 

This post originally appeared on the EDF Energy Exchange blog.

Over the past few years, we’ve written a lot about the wastewater generated from oil and gas production — specifically, how little is known about what’s in it and the potential risks of exposure.

But as states try to set standards for how to safely treat and dispose of this waste, there are two chemicals in particular that deserve to be among the regulatory priorities.

The first is a class of synthetic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFAS for short. Members of this class, often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are highly persistent in the environment, are known to cause adverse health impacts in humans. This can include a range of symptoms, including damage to the immune system, low infant birth weights and cancer.

The second chemical is 1,4-dioxane. Short-term exposure to this carcinogen can cause immediate health impacts, like eye, nose and throat irritation and impaired lung function. Prolonged exposure can lead to liver and kidney damage, as well as cancer.

Read More »

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In major step, Chicago announces lead pipe replacement plan – but could it widen the equity gap?

Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager

In September, Chicago took an important – albeit modest – step towards tackling its colossal number of lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes providing drinking water from the main under the street to homes.

With an estimated 389,900 LSLs, Chicago has more than two times as many LSLs as any other city in the country. In fact, Chicago city code mandated their installation until 1986, when Congress banned it.  Since then, the city has largely turned a blind eye to the problem of existing lead pipes – that is, until now.

On September 10th, Mayor Lightfoot announced the city’s new Lead Service Line Replacement Program, acknowledging the problem and taking initial steps towards fully replacing its lead pipes.  While the starting investment is $19 million, Lightfoot estimates the full cost of the program, including restoration and bringing underground sewerage and water infrastructure up to code, at $8.5 billion. The city currently does not yet have the funds – or a plan – to fully cover the cost. Chicago’s move comes just weeks before the Environmental Protection Agency is slated to release its final revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule.  Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, lead, Public Health / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

ASDWA provides new recommendations to states and utilities for lead service line inventories

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director

The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) released a new white paper to help states and utilities develop more useful inventories of lead service lines (LSLs). The paper builds on guidance the organization issued in August 2019. ASDWA partnered with BlueConduit to leverage that firm’s experience developing a statistical model for Flint, Michigan that accurately predicted which service lines were made of lead, galvanized steel, plastic or copper.

The guidance is timely as EPA prepares to finalize its Lead and Copper Rule revisions. We anticipate those revisions will require utilities to develop – and make public – inventories that identify the location of each service line made of lead or when the material is unknown and may be lead. Utilities would also be required to notify customers annually if they have a lead or unknown service line. Customers who buy a home and open a new water account would also be notified in the first bill.

The ASDWA/BlueConduit white paper encourages utilities to use five principles to best characterize the uncertainty in their inventories:

  1. Ensuring clean data management and organization;
  2. Not accepting all historical records as truth;
  3. Conducting a representative randomized sample of unverified service lines;
  4. Being transparent in public outreach and reproducibility; and
  5. Demonstrating accuracy on “hold-out sample.”

Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, lead, States / Tagged | Comments are closed