EDF Health

New EPA Science Regulation: A Trojan Horse that Hurts Public Health

By Dr. Ananya Roy, Sc.D. & Dr. Elena Craft, Ph.D

Last week, embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rushed to propose a new rule that may prevent EPA from using certain scientific studies in its decisions. He was in such a rush that he didn’t even wait for the White House Office of Management and Budget to complete its review of the proposal before releasing it. The rule was published yesterday in the Federal Register, marking the start of a 30 day public comment period.

Though touted as a measure for transparency, the proposed policy includes a carefully worded loophole[1] that would enable politically driven decisions on what science is used to support critical safety standards. It would hamper public health protections by allowing the agency’s political leadership to select studies that benefit its agenda and ignore those that don’t, opening the door to industry interests and secrecy.

Our colleague Richard Denison explained in a blog post last week how this policy might be used to decimate toxic chemicals safeguards at EPA. Here, we focus on what this deeply destructive proposal would mean for clean air and health.

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Scott Pruitt seeks to cook the books on EPA risk assessment science

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

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unveiled his “secret science” initiative yesterday at a press conference to which no press were invited.  While EPA has yet to post the proposed rule or otherwise make it available to the public, it was made available by others.  The main thrust of the proposal is actually considerably different and, at least initially, more targeted, than advertised by Pruitt in recent weeks and by the House of Representatives Science Committee’s Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who authored the secret science legislation on which Pruitt’s proposal was to be based and appeared with Pruitt yesterday.

Yesterday both men stuck to their earlier talking points about the need to make sure all information EPA relies on is reproducible and fully publicly available, and never mentioned the change in the focus of the proposal.  I suspect both of them would have been hard pressed to describe the actual main focus of the proposal, which is now this:

When promulgating significant regulatory actions, the Agency shall ensure that dose response data and models underlying pivotal regulatory science are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.  (p. 23, emphases in original)

But I am sure Dr. Nancy Beck, chemical industry toxicologist turned top political appointee in EPA’s toxics office, could in a heartbeat.

I would describe the new approach, while no less dangerous, as a laser-guided missile in comparison to the carpet-bombing approach taken by the House legislation and earlier iterations of the EPA proposal.   Read More »

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

EPA IRIS program receives high marks from the National Academies

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist and Ryan O’Connell is a High Meadows Fellow with the Health Program.

Last week the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, concluding that the program has made strong progress in implementing NAS’ earlier recommendations. As noted by the chair of the NAS committee that led the review, “The changes in the IRIS program over such a short period of time are impressive.”

As I’ve blogged about before, IRIS is a non-regulatory program that provides critical chemical reviews and scientific expertise that help ensure the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land where we live, work, and play are safe. Offices across EPA and elsewhere in the federal government rely on IRIS, as do states, local governments, and affected communities (see here and here).

“The changes in the IRIS program over such a short period of time are impressive.”

The new NAS report comes four years after its 2014 review, which noted the substantial progress made by IRIS in addressing recommendations from a more critical 2011 review of a draft IRIS assessment of formaldehyde. It is worth noting that half of the committee members involved in the new IRIS review served on the committee that authored the 2011 review.   Read More »

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Monitoring our chemical exposures: Five lessons learned and what’s on the horizon

Lindsay McCormick, is a Project Manager.

Last October, a groundbreaking report concluded that diseases caused by pollution were responsible for 1 in 6 premature deaths in 2015 worldwide.  That’s 9 million deaths caused by environmental pollution – three times more than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

That may seem startling at first, but health outcomes are largely defined by a person’s genes and their environment.  In fact, environmental factors – like ambient and household air pollution, industrial chemicals, and common consumer products – are implicated in health impacts ranging from cancer and asthma to infertility.

Unfortunately, our ability to track an individual’s chemical exposures – also called the “chemical exposome” – lags way behind what we can measure genetically.  And without this information, it is virtually impossible to develop sound policies and evidence-based interventions to reduce harmful exposures and protect health.

But what if everyone could monitor hazardous chemical exposures? What if school children, soldiers, pregnant women, flight attendants, nail salon workers, gas attendants, and those living within just a few miles of industrial sites – or just about anyone – could understand chemical exposures in their personal environment?

This is where EDF comes in. EDF is exploring ways to catalyze development and scaling of breakthrough technologies capable of detecting an individual’s exposure to a broad spectrum of chemicals—making the invisible, visible.

Our efforts began three years ago, with a series of pilot projects in which people wore a simple silicone wristband capable of detecting over 1,400 chemicals in the environment. Today, we’re collaborating with diverse stakeholders to identify needs and opportunities for accelerating broad uptake of chemical exposure monitoring technologies. Below are five important lessons to jump-start this opportunity. Read More »

Also posted in Emerging Science, Emerging Testing Methods, Uncategorized / Tagged | Comments are closed

Pruitt’s EPA plans to systematically deconstruct the expanded authority a bipartisan Congress gave it less than two years ago

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

EDF has learned from sources across the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its political appointees are taking steps to systematically dismantle the agency’s ability to conduct broad risk reviews of chemicals and effectively address identified risks under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The assault is taking the form of methodically excising from the scopes of the agency’s chemical reviews any uses of, or exposures to, chemicals that fall under TSCA’s jurisdiction, if those uses or exposures also touch on the jurisdiction of another office at EPA or another Federal agency.

The Pruitt EPA’s attempt to atomize the evaluation of chemical risks has one purpose:  to make it far less likely that risks needing to be controlled will be identified.  If each activity that leads to a chemical exposure is looked at in isolation, it will be far more likely that such activity will be deemed safe.

Under the Lautenberg Act’s 2016 amendments to TSCA, Congress directed EPA to identify the first 10 chemicals to undergo risk evaluations; EPA did so in December 2016.  After the transition to the new Administration, EPA scrambled to produce documents that set forth the “scopes” of those evaluations in order to meet the law’s deadline of June 2017; EPA acknowledged, however, that its scope documents were rushed and incomplete, and promised to update them in the form of so-called “problem formulations” that would be issued within six months.  Those documents are now months late.

We now are learning why:  Political appointees at EPA are engaged in an intra-agency process intended to dramatically narrow the scopes of those first 10 reviews.  They are seeking to shed from those reviews any use of or exposure to a chemical that touches on another office’s jurisdiction, apparently regardless of whether or what action has been or can or will be taken by that office to identify, assess or address the relevant potential risks of that chemical.  Reports indicate that leadership in some offices are welcoming this move, while others are resisting it.   Read More »

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

How TSCA implementation could be derailed by Pruitt’s planned directive forcing EPA to ignore science

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

Several of us at EDF listened in last Friday to a webinar hosted by a committee of the American Bar Association that featured Dr. Nancy Beck, Deputy Assistant Administrator in the office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that administers the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Dr. Beck was asked during the Q&A whether EPA was actively working on drafting risk evaluations for the first 10 chemicals TSCA required EPA to identify, even though their long-awaited “problem formulations” have not yet been made available to the public for comment.  Dr. Beck replied that, indeed, the agency was hard at work on the risk evaluations, noting that there are “thousands of studies” agency staff have identified relevant to those 10 chemicals that need to be reviewed.

What struck me about that comment, which in and of itself is not at all surprising, is that it was made just a week after news broke that Dr. Beck's boss, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, plans to direct agency staff to reject large numbers of scientific studies from consideration in policy making at the agency.   Read More »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, TSCA Reform / Comments are closed