EDF Health

Long-Delayed Methylene Chloride Ban Finalized but Still Leaves Workers at Risk

Increasing pressure from families, lawmakers, and advocates forces EPA’s half-step on deadly chemical

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it has finalized a rule that bans methylene chloride in paint strippers for consumer uses but still allows use of the deadly products in workplaces. Instead of banning commercial uses, as it originally proposed to do more than two years ago, EPA is merely starting a process to gather input on what a possible future certification and training program might look like – delaying any action for years.   Read More »

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Busting industry-perpetrated myths about new chemicals and worker protection under TSCA

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

This week the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing on EPA’s failures to protect workers from chemical risks.  It featured a number of compelling testimonies from worker representatives:  auto workers, firefighters, teachers, and farmworkers.  It also featured testimony from a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) official, who made the case for why it is so critical that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comply with the mandates and use the enhanced authorities Congress gave the agency under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to protect workers exposed to chemicals.  He detailed why OSHA is unable to do so, describing OSHA as “outmatched” and having “exhausted its capacity” in the face of decades of severe budget cuts and limited legal authority.

The chemical industry is perpetuating damaging myths about worker protection at EPA and OSHA, which have unfortunately taken a firm hold in the Trump EPA.

Unfortunately, the hearing also included testimonies from two chemical industry representatives who painted a highly deceptive picture of what EPA has done to protect workers under the new TSCA and the adequacy of OSHA regulations regarding chemical risks in the workplace and the extent of compliance with them.  This and future posts will address the damaging myths these witnesses are perpetuating, which have unfortunately taken a firm hold in the Trump EPA.

Myth #1:  EPA is committed to protecting workers when reviewing new chemicals under TSCA.   Read More »

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EDF statement in advance of House hearing on failure by the Trump EPA to protect workers from toxic chemicals

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

Tomorrow, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change will hold an oversight hearing on “Mismanaging Chemical Risks: EPA’s Failure to Protect Workers.” In advance of the hearing, Environmental Defense Fund lead senior scientist, Dr. Richard Denison, made the following statement:

“Under the Trump Administration, every aspect of EPA’s implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) — our recently reformed chemical safety law — has gone off the rails. The Trump EPA has abdicated its authority and responsibility under the law to address risks to workers. Among the ways EPA has shirked these duties are the following:

  • Clearing new chemicals despite risks to workers. EPA has approved new chemicals for unfettered market access even where the agency has identified significant risks to workers or has indicated it has insufficient information to determine risks to workers. EPA has done so for many dozens of chemicals.
  • Abandoning worker protections from methylene chloride. EPA is poised to finalize a ban of methylene chloride-based paint strippers far narrower than the one it proposed over two years ago. While consumer uses will be banned, EPA will not limit commercial uses, leaving workers, who are most at risk from these products, unprotected.
  • Ignoring worker safety in chemical risk evaluations under TSCA. In the only draft risk evaluation of a chemical issued to date, EPA relied exclusively on a single undocumented workplace air concentration value, provided through a private personal communication by a conflicted industry source, as the basis to conclude that workers across the supply chain for this chemical face no significant exposure to the chemical.

“Oversight of this EPA’s reckless approach to worker protection under existing law is long overdue.  We applaud the subcommittee for holding this hearing. This EPA is putting the public’s health – especially worker’s health — at risk by systematically weakening and undermining chemical safety: the agency must be held accountable.”

 

 

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GAO affirms the Trump EPA’s political manipulation of the IRIS formaldehyde assessment

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

I blogged last month about the Trump EPA’s corrupt actions to bury the long-awaited assessment of the carcinogen formaldehyde conducted by the agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program.  That post cited an article in the Wall Street Journal that noted a forthcoming report by Congress’ Government Accountability Office (GAO) that was expected to expose the suspect process used by conflicted political appointees at EPA to prevent public release and completion of that scientific assessment over the past 15 months.  We also noted disturbing indications that EPA intends to redo the assessment of formaldehyde under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), under the control of political appointees who came to EPA directly from the chemical industry’s main trade association and while there led its efforts to undermine IRIS.

GAO confirms in spades the concerted efforts by the agency’s political leadership to fabricate a rationale for abandoning the formaldehyde assessment, which has been ready for public and peer review since the fall of 2017.

GAO’s report is out, and yesterday it featured prominently at a Senate hearing at which top GAO officials testified.  That testimony confirms in spades the recounting in our earlier blog post of the concerted efforts by the agency’s political leadership to fabricate a rationale for abandoning the formaldehyde assessment, which has been ready for public and peer review since the fall of 2017.

In the wake of the GAO report, Senator Carper and other members of Congress from both houses have sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler calling on him to complete the formaldehyde assessment and release documents pertaining to potential ethical and scientific integrity policy violations by EPA political appointees.

I won’t further rehash our earlier post, but will simply post a key excerpt from the hearing, an exchange between Senator Tom Carper (DE) and Mark Gaffigan, Managing Director for Natural Resources and Environment at GAO.  I’ll highlight some key passages in which GAO describes what its investigation found.

EXCERPT FROM YESTERDAY’S GAO TESTIMONY   Read More »

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$10 in benefits for every $1 invested – Minnesota estimates benefits of lead service line replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) released a report estimating that investing $4 billion in virtually eliminating lead in drinking water over 20 years would provide societal benefits of more than $8 billion. The state agency only counted the societal benefits from avoiding the loss of IQ points due to children’s exposure to lead.

Replacing lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes that connect a building’s plumbing to the water main under the street – yielded the greatest benefit with an investment of $0.228 to $0.365 billion yielding $2.118 to $4.235 billion in benefits. Replacing lead fixtures and solder had a lower, but still significant, return on the investment.

Based on this analysis, MDH recommended as high priority that the state conduct an inventory of LSLs and that LSLs be removed “at a measured pace” of 20 years. It also recommended undertaking as a medium priority an awareness campaign focused on the danger of lead in drinking water to formula-fed infants younger than nine months old and as a low priority a general public information campaign to prompt homeowners and renters to take action if they have an LSL.

The agency, which includes both the state’s drinking water protection program and its lead poisoning prevention program, prepared the report in response to a provision in a state appropriations law passed in 2017. The report is important because it is the first state assessment we know of, and it reports an impressive return on the investment of more than $10 for every $1 invested in LSL replacement. For these reasons, we took a close look at the analysis and the underlying assumptions.

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Posted in Drinking Water, Health Policy, Health Science, lead, States / Tagged , , , | 1 Response

A gap remains in the circular economy conversation: Toxic chemicals in packaging

Boma Brown-West, Senior Manager, Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director, and Michelle Harvey, Consultant.

This is the first blog in a series evaluating the challenges associated with single-use food packaging waste.

This week Walmart joined a growing number of companies that are trying to advance the circular economy for packaging. Like previous commitments from NestleCoca-Cola and McDonald’s, Walmart is stepping up its efforts to use more recyclable packaging, incorporate more recycled content, and accelerate development of collection and recycling infrastructures. EDF has a long history fighting for greater and smarter plastics recycling, so we are pleased to see more companies working to eliminate plastic packaging waste from our environment. However, something is often missing from their statements: commitments for safer packaging free of toxic chemicals.

What defines safer packaging?

There are many facets to sustainable packaging: recyclability, reusability, lower material and energy inputs, and the avoidance of toxic chemicals.  A significant amount of virgin plastic used in packaging currently contains toxic chemical additives such as ortho-phthalates or contaminants such as heavy metals. These chemicals have been linked to diseases and health disorders, such as reproductive problems and impaired brain development. When tainted plastic packaging is reused or recycled, these toxic chemicals persist and may accumulate to worrisome levels until the packaging is retired, posing long-term threats to our health.

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