EDF Health

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.

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The next infrastructure stimulus bill is the right place for lead pipe replacement funding – to create jobs, save money and provide safer water for all

Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director and Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director.

Note to readers: As we all grapple with the grave global health challenge from COVID-19, we want to acknowledge the essential service that the public health professionals at water utilities provide in delivering safe water not only for drinking but for washing our hands and our surroundings.

During the past few weeks, Congress has taken extraordinary measures to provide much-needed emergency relief to people as we collectively struggle with the COVID-19 crises. Over the coming months, lawmakers have said they will turn their attention to providing funding to stimulate the economy with a focus on water infrastructure as a priority. Lead pipe replacement should be an essential part of that effort.

To guide the Congressional effort, EDF and hundreds of others signed onto U.S. Water Alliance’s COVID-19 Relief and Recovery: Guiding Principles to Secure Our Water Future. The four principles are:

  1. Ensure water is reliable and affordable to all
  2. Strengthen water utilities of all sizes
  3. Close the water access gap
  4. Fuel economic recovery by investing in water systems

In line with of our support for these principles, EDF is advocating that Congress provide $45 billion for water utilities to fully replace lead service lines (LSL) – the lead pipes connecting a home to the water main under the street. Today, there are more than nine million homes still serviced by LSLs in the country, exposing millions of children and adults to the myriad of harms associated with lead. For children, these harms include undermining brain development. In adults, lead has been shown to cause heart disease, cancer, and impact the neurological, reproductive, and immune systems. While there is broad consensus that LSLs must be fully removed to protect public health, funding challenges have stymied progress.

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Government, NGOs, and industry gather for EPA TSCA New Chemicals Review Meeting

Joanna Slaney is the Legislative Director for EDF Health.

[UPDATE 1/17/17:  Today EPA posted a full transcript of the public comments made at its December 14, 2016, meeting, along with the presentations made by EPA staff.  MP3 audio files of the public comments are already posted (note they are huge files).]

EPA held a public meeting Wednesday on the implementation of the New Chemicals Review Program under the reformed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act required EPA to begin implementation of the reforms to the program on the day the legislation was signed into law. The meeting was an opportunity to discuss the effort and progress to date.

As we’ve noted before, and as I noted on Wednesday, the changes made to the New Chemicals Review Program were fundamental to TSCA reform and the promise of a new system that better protects public health and the environment.

Representatives from state government, the Senate, NGOs, and industry gathered to hear a series of presentations by EPA about new chemicals reviews under the reformed law, scientific and data issues the Agency is navigating, and the types of information it needs from manufacturers and processors to facilitate a streamlined review process.

A series of oral comments from various stakeholders included a robust showing of support for EPA’s actions from public interest groups representing labor, the environment, and public health, as well as concerns from some in industry with certain aspects of implementation. EPA concluded with a commitment to meet again in six months to discuss its progress in implementing revisions to the New Chemicals Review Program.

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Remarks at EPA stakeholder meeting on New Chemicals Review Program

Joanna Slaney is the Legislative Director for EDF Health.

Today the EPA held a public meeting on the new requirements for the New Chemicals Review Program under the reformed Toxic Substances Control Act. EDF oral comments, as prepared for delivery, follow below.

Strong implementation restores public and market confidence.

EDF believes that the reforms to the New Chemicals program in the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, and the robust implementation of these reforms by the EPA, are absolutely essential to the task of restoring public and market confidence in our national chemical safety system. It is this shared objective, restoring public and market confidence, that allowed disparate stakeholders and lawmakers to come together to support the Lautenberg Act in the first place. And without a strong New Chemicals program, there is no restored public confidence.

Without a strong New Chemicals program, there is no restored public confidence.

It’s a public health issue.

With between 500 and 1,000 new chemicals entering the market every year, ensuring the safety of these chemicals is clearly a public health priority. It is critical that new chemicals clear a safety bar before they are allowed in products and in our homes. For decades, chemicals have been allowed on the market simply because there wasn’t enough information to make a safety decision one way or another. In 2007 EPA reported that 85% of pre-manufacture notices contained no health data. That’s not right, and it puts the public’s health at risk, most especially the health of vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women, and workers. Any chemical entering the market should be reviewed and managed to provide a reasonable assurance of its safety. In fact, I expect that most Americans believe that their government already does so in order to protect their health and the health of their families.

It’s congressional intent.

Many in Congress worked hard to drive significant improvements to the new chemicals provisions in the new law; indeed, for some it was a central reason for their involvement in reforming TSCA. And the record is clear that even where certain Members were less inclined to see the need for change, they acknowledged that significant changes were made to the New Chemicals program as part of the compromise legislation. The changes that were made were a compromise on both sides but they were not insignificant, and the new requirements are clearly laid out in the language of the Lautenberg Act.

It’s a primary purpose of TSCA.

It has been argued that EPA’s implementation of the new chemicals program under the Lautenberg Act risks impeding innovation and is at odds with the intent of the law. In fact, the intent of the law is quite clear:

It is the policy of the United States that— authority over chemical substances and mixtures should be exercised in such a manner as not to impede unduly or create unnecessary economic barriers to technological innovation while fulfilling the primary purpose of this Act to assure that such innovation and commerce in such chemical substances and mixtures do not present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.

While innovation is central, it cannot come at the expense of protection for public health and the environment. Innovation without safety is not true innovation.

The changes made to the New Chemicals program are fundamental to the reform of TSCA and the promise of the new system. Given that the development and application of new chemicals are a clear source of innovation, how else is that primary purpose of TSCA – providing an assurance that innovation and commerce in chemicals do not present unreasonable risk – to be realized other than through robust scrutiny of new chemicals prior to their commercialization.

The public has a right to expect that chemicals to which they may be exposed will not be allowed into use without adequate assurance of their safety.  The lack of that basic assurance has undermined consumer confidence in our chemical safety system.  The most efficient and effective stage at which to provide assurance of safety is before commercial production and use begins, rather than waiting and then having to try to mitigate risks that arise after a new chemical is embedded in commerce.

Environmental Defense Fund supports the actions taken by EPA to date in implementing the New Chemicals Program and believes they are clearly required under the new law.  We look forward to EPA continuing to implement a robust New Chemicals program that can restore public and market confidence in our national chemical safety system, while both protecting human health and the environment and fostering safe innovation.

Posted in EPA, Flint, Health Policy, Industry Influence, Regulation, TSCA Reform / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed