EDF Health

EPA distorts the scientific evidence and fails to protect kids’ brains in its proposed limit for perchlorate in drinking water

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 56 parts per billion (ppb) for perchlorate in drinking water – more than three times less protective than an interim health advisory level set in 2008. To justify this increase, EPA turned its back on scientific evidence showing that this potent neurotoxin undermines childrens’ motor development and control and can increase their anxiety and depression. The agency’s reasoning is inconsistent with its own analysis published in a draft report in late 2017 and the findings of a peer review panel it convened last year to review that report.

If the agency had used the most protective scientific study and the most sensitive endpoint evaluated in the proposed rule, the MCL would likely be 4 ppb – more than three times more protective than the current health advisory. As a result, the agency fails to adequately protect children from a lifetime of harm. With this MCL, EPA is allowing pregnant women to be exposed to perchlorate in the first trimester of pregnancy at levels that pose much greater risk of impaired neurodevelopment in their children.

The proposed MCL – and how the agency reached it – was both a disappointment and a surprise to us. In late 2017, we applauded the agency’s scientists for developing an innovative model connecting a mother’s perchlorate exposure in the first trimester to fetal harm. We were not alone – in early 2018, EPA’s peer review panel congratulated the agency’s scientists on their analysis. We also complimented EPA’s population-based approach to developing an MCL by estimating the percent of pregnant women, and their children, with borderline thyroid dysfunction due to low iodine intake.

So how did EPA abruptly change course and estimate an MCL less protective than the current health advisory? By altering its analysis in three subtle but significant ways:

  1. Rejecting five epidemiology studies showing harm at even lower exposure levels in favor of one IQ study by Korevaar et al. in 2016.
  2. Choosing an MCL that allows an IQ loss of 2 points even though the study showed a 1 point loss was statistically significant.
  3. Dismissing an alternative, population-based method that EPA proposed in 2017 that reinforces the need for a more protective standard.

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Also posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Health Policy, perchlorate / Tagged , , , | Read 1 Response

EPA’s safety standard for perchlorate in water should prioritize kids’ health

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon propose a drinking water standard for perchlorate. The decision – due by the end of May per a consent decree with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)— will end a nearly decade-long process to regulate the chemical that has been shown to harm children’s brain development.

In making its decision, EPA must propose a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) “at the level at which no known or anticipated adverse effects on the health of persons occur and which allows an adequate margin of safety.”[1] It must also set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) as close to the MCLG as feasible using the best available treatment technology and taking cost into consideration.

To guide that decision, EPA’s scientists developed a sophisticated model that considers the impact of perchlorate on the development of the fetal brain in the first trimester when the fetus is particularly vulnerable to the chemical’s disruption of the proper function of the maternal thyroid gland. As discussed more below, the model was embraced by an expert panel of independent scientists through a transparent, public process that included public comments and public meetings.

In April, a consulting firm published a study critiquing EPA’s model. The authors acknowledged the model as a valuable research tool but did not think it is sufficient to use in regulatory decision-making due to uncertainties. Therefore, the authors concluded that EPA should discard the peer-reviewed model and rely on a 14-year old calculation of a “safe dose” that does not consider the latest scientific evidence and has even greater uncertainties. They didn’t offer other options such as using uncertainty factors to address their concerns about the model’s estimated values.

Given the importance of the issue and the risk to children’s brain development, we want to explain EPA’s model, the process the agency used to develop it, and the study raising doubt about the model.

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Also posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, perchlorate / Tagged , , , | Read 2 Responses

Traffic pollution causes 1 in 5 new cases of kids’ asthma in major cities: How data can help

Dr. Ananya Roy is a Senior Health Scientist

City leadership can ill afford to ignore this issue and must strive for opportunities to prevent new cases of asthma.

landmark new study shines a light on the massive impact of vehicular air pollution on the health of our children. The study estimates that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a key traffic air pollutant – leads to approximately 4 million new asthma cases in children across the globe, or 1 in 10 new cases.

To address this pervasive threat, leaders need local data to create targeted approaches and policies. That’s why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is leveraging sensor technology to develop novel methods to measure and map air pollution – including NO2 concentrations – block by block in cities across the world, from Oakland to Houston to London.

Cities bear the worst burden

The study, released this month in The Lancet Planetary Health, finds that children living in cities are most at risk of asthma due to NO2 pollution. A staggering 90% of all new cases due to traffic were in urban and adjoining suburban areas.

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Also posted in Air Pollution, Hyperlocal mapping, Public Health / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

How toxic is oilfield wastewater? New paper highlights gaps in our understanding.

This post originally was published on the Energy Exchange Blog.

By Cloelle Danforth and Nichole Saunders.

Jennifer McPartland contributed to this post.

Collaborative research is a critical element for identifying unforeseen risks associated with using the oil industry’s wastewater outside the oilfield. That’s the recommendation of a new peer-reviewed paper accepted this week in the Journal of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM).

The paper comes at a crucial moment for the oil and gas industry, which generates some 900 billion gallons of salty, chemical-filled water (also called produced water) each year. Traditionally, companies dispose of this wastewater deep underground where it is less likely to cause contamination. But economics and water scarcity are forcing questions about other ways to treat, reuse and even repurpose this wastewater. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release a report very soon that could make it more common for companies to discharge their wastewater into rivers and streams.

The IEAM paper outlines the conclusions of a multi-day toxicity workshop where experts from the oil and gas industry, academia, government and the environmental community collectively identified key knowledge gaps associated with this waste stream and determined tools, technologies and methods needed to help close those gaps.

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Also posted in Environment, Public Health / Tagged | Comments are closed

EPA’s Naming of Formaldehyde as a Candidate for High Priority Under TSCA Raises Serious Concerns

Statement of Dr. Richard Denison, Lead Senior Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund 

EPA’s statement today regarding its inclusion of formaldehyde on the list of chemicals under consideration for prioritization for risk evaluation under TSCA leaves many questions unanswered.

EPA states that ‘the work done for IRIS will inform the TSCA process.’ Such consideration is already required by law.

What is absolutely essential is that the IRIS program be able to complete its assessment of formaldehyde, which has been suppressed for the last year and a half by conflicted EPA political appointees.  Then EPA’s TSCA office, just like every other EPA office, can and should rely on it to make regulatory decisions.

It’s time that political interference in the agency’s science stop.”

For more information see the following EDF blog post: The Trump EPA’s actions on formaldehyde can be summed up in one word: Corrupt.

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

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 »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence / Tagged , | Comments are closed