EDF Health

Hiding its tracks: The black box of EPA’s new chemical reviews just got a whole lot blacker

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

[UPDATED 1-8-18:  See updates below]

We have been blogging about damaging changes being made to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new chemicals review program for some time.  Despite the reforms made in 2016 under the Lautenberg Act that were intended to significantly strengthen new chemical reviews, Scott Pruitt’s EPA has been moving since August of last year to seriously weaken the program.

Late yesterday, EPA made a change to its new chemicals website that not only reverses changes made to implement the Lautenberg Act, but actually makes the site less transparent than it has been for decades.

EPA's intent is now quite clear:  to prevent the public from knowing when EPA’s professional staff flagged any concern in their initial review of a new chemical.

The change makes clear that the agency is now planning to cover its tracks as it weakens new chemical reviews:  EPA will now hide from the public any information about whether its initial review of a new chemical raises any concerns or warrants a more extensive review.  Is this what Scott Pruitt meant when he said he intended to bring increased “transparency” to the review program – a term he used no fewer than five times in his August news release previewing changes he was making?   Read More »

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Dourson emails show he was paid by and worked closely with ACC when providing states “advice” on chemicals made by ACC members

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

[Use this link to see all of our posts on Dourson.]

I blogged last week about how a trove of emails recently released by the New York Times shines a light on the cozy relationship between Michael Dourson, who just withdrew his nomination to run the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) toxics office, and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the main chemical industry trade association. 

Dourson email to ACC staffer: "We should talk while I am still able to do so directly. I am not sure what limitations I will have with outside groups."

You might ask why I’m blogging again about these emails.  It’s because they provide a rare and fascinating inside look at how – and how closely – paid consultants, who often tout themselves to the public and state and federal agencies as independent and objective arbiters of sound science, work with industry.  In this post I’ll describe what the emails tell us about Dourson’s work with state governments – and point to a “Bcc” in one of those emails that raises a big red flag.   Read More »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, States, TSCA Reform / Tagged | Read 1 Response

Systematic slowdown: EPA indefinitely delays virtually all proposed actions to restrict chemicals under TSCA

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.  My colleague Ryan O’Connell assisted in the research described in this post.

By the time the long-awaited reforms of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) passed in June of 2016, nearly all stakeholders had come to agree that we needed a stronger federal chemical safety system, one that gave EPA more authority and more resources to act.  Only through this could public confidence in the system begin to be restored – to the benefit of both business and public health.

That was then.  A scant 18 months later, the law is being implemented by an Administration hell-bent on rolling back existing or indefinitely delaying new health protections, even those called for by large bipartisan majorities in Congress.  And the chemical industry?  So much for the influence of its better angels who supported reform.  It’s now going for broke, grabbing what it can while it can.

Virtually every proposed action that would impose restrictions or conditions on specific chemicals has been either moved to the “long-term action” attic or simply deleted altogether.

Yesterday, the New York Times and The Intercept ran stories spotlighting EPA’s decision to back-burner proposed restrictions on high-risk uses of three highly toxic chemicals – trichloroethylene (TCE), methylene chloride (MC), and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) – relegating them to the bureaucratic dustbin of “long-term actions.”  Not coincidentally, the chemical industry has strongly opposed all of the proposed restrictions.

But those aren’t the only proposed actions on chemicals for which this EPA has applied the brakes.  An examination of EPA’s two most recent semi-annual “unified agendas” – that trumpeted by the President last week, and the preceding one issued this past April – reveals a much broader and more disturbing pattern:  Virtually every proposed action that would impose restrictions or conditions on specific chemicals has been either moved to the “long-term action” attic or simply deleted altogether.   Read More »

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A parting gift from Dourson: A trove of revealing emails

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

[Use this link to see all of our posts on Dourson.]

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported on the withdrawal of the nomination of Michael Dourson to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) chemical safety office – which we applauded as a win for public health.  The Times article mentioned and provided a link to a 400-page trove of emails to and from Dourson that were obtained through a FOIA request filed in August by Greenpeace to the University of Cincinnati, where Dourson previously worked.

The emails shine a rare spotlight on a network, of which Dourson and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) are a part, that operates largely out of public view.  It involves a coordinated effort between the chemical industry and its private and academic consultants to generate science that invariably supports the safety of the industry’s chemicals, and pushes back against any regulatory and academic science that indicates otherwise.  The emails make for very interesting reading, if you can skip through the myriad emails about scheduling calls and meetings (which make up the bulk of any of our inboxes, I suspect).

To pique your interest, let me start with one email relating to Dourson’s nomination.   Read More »

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Is there no limit to industry’s overreach and hubris when it comes to new chemicals under TSCA?

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

We’ve already blogged about how changes the agency is making to its reviews of new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) are illegal as well as bad policy.  But an industry letter and attachment added last week to EPA’s new chemicals docket shows the chemical industry isn’t done yet in seeking to eviscerate the program.

The letter and position statement were submitted to Jeffery Morris, Director of EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) by something called the TSCA New Chemicals Coalition (NCC).

They raise a multitude of red flags.

The NCC is a creation of the industry law firm Bergeson & Campbell (B&C). The letter to Morris describes NCC as “a group of representatives from over 20 companies that have come together to identify new chemical notification issues under the amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and to work collaboratively with you and your team to address them.”

First red flag:  Nowhere are the 20+ companies identified, not in the letter or associated position statement, nor on B&C’s web pages for NCC.  Such secrecy always sets off an alarm when it comes to the chemical industry’s history of forming misleading front groups and coalitions.  Why don’t the companies want their identities known?

Second red flag:  The NCC letter and position statement claim that “OSHA has in place an extensive regulatory scheme, as well as enforcement mechanisms, governing chemical exposure in the workplace” and refers to the “robust nature of the existing OSHA regulatory program” and its “overarching and comprehensive requirements” that apply in the workplace.  Now, anyone outside of industry readily acknowledges that OSHA’s ability to adequately address workplace exposures has been decimated over time – through sustained industry efforts on many fronts, including mounting legal challenges to OSHA’s authority and successfully pressing for reduction after reduction in its budget and staffing.  Those attacks continue today, and if anything have accelerated under the Trump Administration.

Why then, you may wonder, is NCC writing to the director of EPA’s TSCA office to tout OSHA’s sweeping authority over workplace chemical exposures?  By now you may be getting a sense of where this is headed … .   Read More »

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EDF comments at EPA’s public meeting on new chemical reviews question the credibility and legality of recent changes

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

EPA held a public meeting today to present information on major changes it is making to its review of new chemicals under last year’s reforms made to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by the Lautenberg Act.

EPA provided brief opportunities for stakeholders to provide comments.  Two of us from EDF – I, and my colleague Robert Stockman, Senior Attorney – gave oral comments at the meeting.  We are providing those comments here in written form.

Through these actions, many clearly contrary to the law, EPA is returning the new chemicals program to its dark ages under the old TSCA, making it again into a black box within which EPA acts as if its only stakeholder is the chemical industry.

My comments are available here.

Robert Stockman’s comments are available here.

As the comments make clear, EDF believes the changes EPA is making and discussed today are both contrary to the requirements of the new TSCA and represent a retreat from the credible, transparent and accountable new chemicals program Congress sought to establish under the new law.

As I noted in my comments:  “Through these actions, many clearly contrary to the law, EPA is returning the new chemicals program to its dark ages under the old TSCA, making it again into a black box within which EPA acts as if its only stakeholder is the chemical industry.”

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