EDF Health

The Trump EPA is setting back chemicals policies by decades

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


Tacoma, WA 1972

As we approach the third anniversary of the historic passage of bipartisan legislation to overhaul our nation’s broken chemical safety system, we’re hearing that political appointees at the agency are gearing up to celebrate their “successes” in implementing the law.

Even more disturbing than its individual actions are the methodical steps the Trump EPA is taking to dismantle decades of progress in our country’s chemicals policies.

While the chemical industry may well have things to celebrate, it’s simply not the case for the rest of us:  Comments from former top EPA officialsmembers of Congressstate and local governments, labor groupsfirefighterswater utilitiespublic health groups, and a broad range of environmental groups make crystal clear that there’s nothing warranting celebration.  EPA’s actions are threatening the health of American families.

But as I reflect on how implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has gone off the rails under the Trump EPA, even more disturbing than its individual actions are the methodical steps it is taking to dismantle decades of progress in our country’s chemicals policies.  In this post, I’ll briefly highlight five such policies and how this EPA is undermining them:

  • Pollution prevention
  • Inherent safety and hazard reduction
  • Protection of vulnerable subpopulations and environmental justice
  • Holistic, real-world risk assessment
  • Public right to know

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Company safety data sheets on new chemicals frequently lack the worker protections EPA claims they include

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

Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA’s approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere “expectation” that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer’s non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).

How much farther under the bus will the Trump EPA throw American workers?

The typical course has been for EPA to identify risks to workers from a new chemical it is reviewing under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), but then – instead of issuing an order imposing binding conditions on the chemical’s entry onto the market, as TSCA requires – to find that the chemical is “not likely to present an unreasonable risk” and impose no conditions whatsoever on its manufacturer.  This sleight of hand is pulled off by EPA stating that it:

expects employers will require and workers will use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) … consistent with the Safety Data Sheet prepared by the new chemical submitter, in a manner adequate to protect them.

We have detailed earlier the myriad ways in which this approach strays from the law, is bad policy and won’t protect workers.  But here’s yet another gaping problem:  When we are able to look at the actual SDSs – that is, when EPA has made them available and when they are not totally redacted – we are frequently finding that the specific PPE that EPA claims to be specified in the SDSs – and that EPA asserts is sufficient to protect all workers handling the chemical – is not in the SDSs.   Read More »

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Round 2 on PV29 reveals even deeper flaws in EPA’s TSCA risk evaluation of the chemical

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

On Friday, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) submitted a new set of extensive comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to its March release of additional information on Pigment Violet 29 (PV29), the first chemical to undergo a risk evaluation under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) following the law’s amendment in 2016.

After EDF and others criticized both the dearth of health and environmental data on PV29, and EPA’s illegal withholding of those data, EPA released some additional information and opened a new comment period in mid-April.  In releasing the new information, EPA was quick to judgment, asserting that “[t]he release of these studies does not change the Agency’s proposed ‘no unreasonable risk’ determination as concluded in the draft risk evaluation published in November.”

EDF’s 100 pages of comments in Round 1 enumerated the myriad ways EPA has failed to demonstrate that PV29 does not present unreasonable risk.  Unfortunately, if anything, Round 2 has only deepened our concerns over the inadequacy of EPA’s risk evaluation.   Read More »

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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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Industry deletions in PV29 study summaries should raise alarm bells on both sides of the Atlantic

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

The intentional alteration of industry study summaries under REACH that I report here should raise major alarms on both sides of the Atlantic and illustrates why public access to full studies on chemicals to which we are or may be exposed must be paramount.

Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting to find this when I started working on EDF’s comments on supplemental materials the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently made available on Pigment Violet 29 (PV29), the first of 10 chemicals undergoing risk evaluations under the amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  What I discovered – almost by chance – strongly reinforces EDF’s and others’ view that the public’s ability to independently assess and trust EPA chemical assessments falls flat without access to full and unredacted copies of the health and safety information EPA cites in support of its risk evaluation.   Read More »

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EDF asks judge to rule on legality of FDA rule allowing companies to secretly decide on chemicals in our food

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

At the end of March, EDF, represented jointly by counsel from Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety (CFS), asked a federal district court judge to decide as a matter of law that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) regulation is unlawful. The GRAS Rule allows food manufacturers to make secret safety determinations for chemicals added to food without notifying FDA or the public and to use such chemicals. If the judge agrees to our request, this would vacate the rule. Two years ago, EDF and others challenged the legality of the GRAS Rule in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. Last September, the court ruled that plaintiffs EDF and the CFS have standing, setting the stage for a decision on the merits of the case.

In the Motion for Summary Judgment, we identify the following four ways in which FDA violated the law in the GRAS Rule. FDA has until May 28 to respond to our motion.

  1. FDA unlawfully delegated to food manufacturers its authority to determine the safety of chemicals added to our food.

When Congress enacted the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) of 1938, it gave FDA the responsibility to ensure the nation’s food is safe and free from harmful substances. To implement this responsibility, it provided the agency broad authority to adopt necessary regulations.

Unfortunately, in the GRAS Rule, instead of fulfilling its responsibility to keep food safe, FDA formally and unlawfully outsourced its responsibility to the regulated entities themselves – namely, for-profit additive manufacturers – allowing them to decide for themselves, in secret, whether the chemical substances they have manufactured can be added to food. This unlawful delegation – made without express statutory authorization – makes it all but impossible for FDA to fulfill its obligations under the FFDCA.

As a result, the GRAS Rule impermissibly allows regulated, private companies with obvious conflicts of interest to self-certify the use of their chemical additives as GRAS without notifying FDA. This is not a case where FDA is seeking legitimate outside input to gather factual information or advice and make policy recommendations. Here, FDA retains no oversight over these secret GRAS determinations that directly affect the safety of our food and thus render it impossible for the agency to fulfill its statutory mandate to keep our food safe.

By delegating its authority in the GRAS Rule, the agency violated Constitutional principles, the FFDCA, and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The rule effectively insulates the agency from democratic accountability for food safety decisions and denies citizens their right to seek judicial review of decisions about the safety of substances that may be added to food.

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