EDF Health

Loosening industry’s grip on EPA’s new chemicals program

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

[I delivered a shorter version of these comments at the September 22, 2021 webinar titled “Hair on Fire and Yes Packages! How the Biden Administration Can Reverse the Chemical Industry’s Undue Influence,” cosponsored by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), NH Safe Water Alliance, and EDF.  A recording of the webinar will shortly be available here.  The webinar, second in a series, follows on EPA whistleblower disclosures first appearing in a complaint filed by PEER that are detailed in a series of articles by Sharon Lerner in The Intercept.]

The insularity of the New Chemicals Program – where staff only interact with industry and there is no real engagement with other stakeholders – spawns and perpetuates these industry-friendly and un-health-protective policies.

I have closely tracked the Environmental Protection Agency’s New Chemicals Program for many years.  Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that the program does not serve the agency’s mission and the public interest, but rather the interests of the chemical industry.  Despite the major reforms Congress made to the program in 2016 when it overhauled the Toxic Substances Control Act, the New Chemicals Program is so badly broken that nothing less than a total reset can fix the problems.

Revelations emerging through responses Environmental Defense Fund finally received to a FOIA request we made two years ago, and through the disclosures of courageous whistleblowers who did or still work in the New Chemicals Program, confirm what I have long suspected, looking in from the outside.  The program:

  • uses practices that allow the chemical industry to easily access and hold sway over EPA reviews and decisions on the chemicals they seek to bring to market;
  • has developed a deeply embedded culture of secrecy that blocks public scrutiny and accountability;
  • employs policies – often unwritten – that undermine Congress’ major reforms to the law and reflect only industry viewpoints; and
  • operates through a management system and managers, some still in place, that regularly prioritize industry’s demands for quick decisions that allow their new chemicals onto the market with no restrictions, over reliance on the best science and protection of public and worker health.

Many of the worst abuses coming to light took place during the Trump administration, and it is tempting to believe the change in administrations has fixed the problems.  It has not.  The damaging practices, culture, policies and management systems predate the last administration and laid the foundation for the abuses.  Highly problematic decisions continue to be made even in recent weeks.

I am encouraged by recent statements and actions of Dr. Michal Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator of the EPA office that oversees TSCA implementation.  They clearly are moves in the right direction.  But it is essential that the deep-rooted, systemic nature of the problem be forthrightly acknowledged and forcefully addressed.

Let me provide some examples of each of the problems I just noted.  Read More »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, PFAS, Public Health, Regulation, TSCA Reform, Worker Safety / Tagged , | Comments are closed

Beyond paper: PFAS linked to common plastic packaging used for food, cosmetics, and much more

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director, Maricel Maffini, consultant, and Tom Bruton with Green Science Policy Institute. 

Update August 11, 21 – Added FDA’s Response to FOIA.

Results from an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation into PFAS-contaminated pesticides have much broader, concerning implications for food, cosmetics, shampoos, household cleaning products, and other consumer products, as well as recycling. This investigation, first announced earlier this year, found that fluorinated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) containers used for pesticide storage contained a mix of short and long-chain per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), including PFOA, that leached into the product. From what EPA can tell, the PFAS were not intentionally added to the HDPE containers but are hypothesized to have been produced when fluorine gas was applied to the plastic.

Since EPA released its investigation, we have learned the disturbing fact that the fluorination of plastic is commonly used to treat hundreds of millions of polyethylene and polypropylene containers each year ranging from packaged food and consumer products that individuals buy to larger containers used by retailers such as restaurants to even larger drums used by manufacturers to store and transport fluids.

The process of polyethylene fluorination was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1983 for food packaging to reduce oxygen and moisture migration through the plastic that would cause foods to spoil. The fluorination process forms a barrier on the plastic’s surface and it also strengthens the packaging.

Fluorination of plastic leading to the inadvertent creation of PFAS may be another reason these ‘forever chemicals’ show up in many unexpected places. This significant source of PFAS contamination needs to be addressed. Much remains to be resolved as FDA and EPA actively investigate this new source of PFAS; however, preventive steps need to be taken quickly, especially since other PFAS-free barrier materials are available as alternatives.

Growing evidence links PFAS to a wide range of serious health effects – from developmental problems to cancer.

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Also posted in EPA, FDA, PFAS, Regulation / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Heart disease and adult lead exposure – the evidence grows more compelling

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Two recent articles add to the already strong evidence that adult exposure to relatively low levels of lead is associated with heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, after COVID-19. These studies reinforce the urgent need to reduce not only children’s exposure to lead but also adult exposure through regulatory action.

A February 2021 Environmental Health Perspectives article found that blood lead levels were positively associated with prevalence of moderate to severe coronary artery stenosis (CAS), the narrowing of at least 25% of these vital arteries to the heart. The researchers studied a cohort of 2,000 Korean adults studied with no history of CAS, cardiovascular disease (CVD), or occupational exposure to lead. The vast majority of their blood lead levels were below the U.S. Center of Disease Control’s (CDC) reference level.[1] The researchers found that he severity of CAS is an important predictor for life threatening cardiovascular disease, even after adjusting for factors such as age, sex, hypertension, body mass index, regular exercise, smoking, and alcohol drinking.[2]

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Also posted in Emerging Science, lead / Tagged | Comments are closed

Re-visioning TSCA: Address the cumulative impacts of chemical exposures

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

Part 4 of a 4-part series see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here

This series of blog posts is looking ahead toward opportunities to advance a more robust and holistic vision for implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as reformed in 2016.

We discussed in the preceding installments of this series the importance of ensuring that combined exposures to a chemical from multiple sources and the greater exposures and susceptibilities of certain groups are accounted for.  But it is critical to also recognize that many other factors influence the impacts chemical exposures have on our health.  This final installment in our series will discuss how TSCA can and should take into account all of these factors – that is, account for cumulative impacts.

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Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform / Tagged | Comments are closed

Chemicals in hair products, making rent as a grad student, and more: A conversation with Dr. Tamarra James-Todd

Dr. Tamarra James-Todd’s interest in human health dates back to her childhood, when she would go into work with her mom, who was a microbiologist, on the odd weekend at the Kansas City VA Hospital. Now an epidemiologist at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, Dr. James-Todd has focused her career on understanding the impacts of toxic chemicals on women’s reproductive and long-term health in order to improve overall health.

Dr. Tamarra James-Todd

Through her research, she has found that 50% of hair care products marketed to Black women contain hormone disrupting chemicals, compared to only 7% advertised to white women based on product label information. Further, the use of these products, such as hair oils and chemical straighteners, can put girls and women at higher risk of health impacts including earlier age at puberty—a risk factor for breast cancer. In addition to assessing racial and ethnic differences in chemical exposure, Dr. James-Todd’s research also includes identifying how pregnancy and complications that occur during this period can impact a woman’s risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

I recently chatted with Dr. James-Todd about her work, how she got into the women’s environmental reproductive health field, and how COVID-19 has impacted her many research initiatives.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Also posted in Health Policy, Markets and Retail, Public Health / Comments are closed

Re-visioning TSCA: Better protect those at greater risk

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

Part 3 of a 4-part series see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4 here

This series of blog posts is looking ahead toward opportunities to advance a more robust and holistic vision for implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as reformed in 2016.

In the preceding installment in this series, we discussed TSCA’s mandate for EPA to conduct comprehensive chemical evaluations.  The Trump EPA’s failure to do so especially detrimental to those groups at greater risk because they are more likely to face the precise exposures and susceptibilities that the Trump EPA excluded.  In this installment of our series, we will address how TSCA can and must be used to better protect those at greater risk from chemical exposures.

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Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform / Tagged | Comments are closed