EDF Health

Senate funding proposal to eliminate EPA’s IRIS program is a public health debacle

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Among other things, IRIS chemical reviews are used to inform clean-up decisions at Superfund and other contaminated sites, set standards to ensure clean drinking water, assess health risks from toxic air emissions, and evaluate health risks of chemicals in commerce. These are all legally mandated activities stipulated under different laws to ensure the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the lands where we work, live, and play are safe.

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Appropriations majority posted their version of the FY2018 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill online (see bill here and accompanying explanatory statement here; see the minority’s summary response here). The legislation lays out spending measures for a number of agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  In releasing the bill yesterday, the majority has bypassed the amendment and markup process.

Among other cuts, the bill eliminates the EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program. At best a small fraction of its responsibilities – and only one-third of its funding – would be re-allocated to the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP).

If realized, this short-sighted move would be a debacle in terms of protecting public health from harmful chemical exposures.

[A short fact sheet on IRIS and implications of eliminating it is available here.]

Read More »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science / Comments are closed

“Tore apart our happy home”: Another chemical embraced by Dourson and Beck is contaminating the drinking water supply in Memphis and across the country

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

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

That lyric from a Chuck Berry signature song, “Memphis, Tennessee,” takes on a haunting new meaning in light of the latest evidence of contamination of the Memphis Sand aquifer, a main drinking water source for the city, with the highly toxic solvent tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene (PCE), or more commonly PERC).  Lest there be any doubt about the human toll this is taking, read this local woman’s heart-wrenching story.

The source of PERC in this case is a former dry cleaning business that is now a hazardous waste site, and because of Sharri Schmidt’s case is now nominated to become a Superfund site.  The chemical is still widely used in dry cleaning as well as in many other uses.  It’s a probable human carcinogen, and is also toxic to the brain, kidney and liver.

As I write, Dourson and Beck are making decisions that will help determine how the risks of PERC and other chemicals are assessed and whether or not they need to be regulated.

Unfortunately, Schmidt is far from alone.  PERC contamination of drinking water is widespread in this country.  To name just a few, have a look at these stories from towns and cities in North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada, Arizona, Montana, and New York.

Data compiled by the Environmental Working Group from local water utilities shows that PERC was detected in tap water samples taken by water utilities in 44 states that serve 19 million people.

One might hope and think that affected local communities could turn to the US Environmental Protection Agency for help in such situations.  The sad truth is that under the Trump administration this may well not be the case.  Trump has nominated Michael Dourson to lead EPA’s chemical safety office, who, despite the fact that he’s yet to be confirmed, is already working at EPA as a special advisor to Administrator Scott Pruitt.  And Pruitt has already installed as a political appointee to that office Nancy Beck, who until May was a senior official at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the chemical industry’s main trade association.

So what do Dourson and Beck have to do with PERC?   Read More »

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

To be true to your new directive, Mr. Pruitt, you need to fire Michael Dourson today

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

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

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a directive today that prevents independent scientists who receive research grants from EPA from serving on any EPA advisory panels.  Wholly unaddressed by the directive is any counterpart prohibition on scientists funded by industries with conflicts of interest from serving as EPA advisors.  

If Pruitt firmly believes that receipt of EPA funding is a basis for disqualifying a scientist from advising the agency, then he need look no further for someone to purge than his own recently named “advisor to the Administrator” on chemicals, Michael Dourson.

When it comes to advice the agency receives, the core concern over the need to avoid conflicts of interest is this:  Is advice tainted because the entity employing and paying the advisor stands to gain or lose financially from the agency decision that is under advisement?  Say, for example, EPA selected as an advisor a consultant to Koch Industries who it paid for work that concluded the company’s releases into the environment of the petcoke generated by its facilities are safe.  A reasonable person would have a basis to believe that Koch could benefit financially from the advice its consultant might provide the agency.  In contrast, how does EPA stand to benefit financially from the results of research conducted by an EPA-funded scientist?  The simple answer is, it doesn’t.

Now let’s look at it from the perspective of the scientist receiving the funding.  Pruitt’s directive is based on the outlandish premise that EPA funds research in order to find problems it can then regulate, and hence that an EPA-funded researcher has an incentive to find a problem in order to better ensure continued EPA funding.  The claim is that the advice offered by that researcher would be “pre-tainted” toward supporting EPA policy decisions that drive regulation.  This theory that imagines a grand conspiracy between researchers and the agency is inherently flawed and unfounded.   Read More »

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

In 2016 industry-funded paper, Dourson and Beck sought weaker standard for lethal paint stripper chemical

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

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

[See clarification added on 10-26-17 in brackets below.]

The New York Times’ investigation “Why Has the E.P.A. Shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Helps Call the Shots” published this past Sunday cited evidence that Nancy Beck – a political appointee in EPA’s chemical safety office who until May was a senior official at the American Chemistry Council (ACC) – is questioning the need for EPA’s proposed rule to ban the use of the deadly chemical dichloromethane (also called methylene chloride) in paint and coating removers.  These products are responsible for dozens of deaths in recent years.

The Times’ story also noted in its last paragraph that Beck and Michael Dourson – the Trump Administration’s controversial nominee to lead EPA’s chemical safety office – are co-authors on a 2016 paper that was funded by ACC.  That paper was published in the industry’s go-to journal, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, where Dourson has published most of his papers.

The paper is of interest and relevant for another reason as well:  Dourson and Beck assert that the acceptable risk levels EPA has set for 24 chemicals are all too stringent and should be relaxed by anywhere from 2.5 to 150 fold.  (Funny, isn’t it, how the numbers for all 24 chemicals all went in the same direction?)

Among these 24 chemicals is the paint-stripping chemical dichloromethane (aka methylene chloride).  This chemical is a particularly concerning one:  It is a likely carcinogen and is linked to numerous other chronic health impacts, but it is also acutely and tragically lethal.   Dourson and Beck call for EPA’s standard for the chemical to be relaxed to a level that is 8.3 times less protective. [Clarification added 10-26-17:  This factor applies to EPA's ingestion standard (reference dose); Dourson and Beck's proposed adjustment to EPA's inhalation standard (reference concentration) was 2.5-fold less protective.]

The Times article makes clear that, despite her prior work on this chemical while at ACC, and the fact that this chemical is made by numerous ACC companies, Beck has not recused herself from making decisions about its risk and regulatory responses – decisions that are being considered at EPA even as I write.  Indeed, as I noted earlier this week, her astounding ethics agreement gives her wide latitude to work on issues in which ACC has financial interests in order to ensure those interests are taken into account.

In Dourson’s nomination hearing held by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on October 4, he was repeatedly asked if he would, if confirmed, recuse himself from work on chemicals he had been paid by industry to work on, and he repeatedly refused to say he would do so.

One more reason that Michael Dourson should not be entrusted with our health and the Senate should reject his nomination to head EPA’s toxics office.

Just yesterday, Dourson’s nomination was voted out of the committee by an 11-10 vote.  The fight over his nomination now moves to the full Senate.


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

Top 5 takeaways from this weekend’s NY Times investigation into industry influence in EPA’s toxics program

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

The lead article in Sunday’s print edition of the New York Times, titled “Why Has the E.P.A. Shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Helps Call the Shots,” presents an 8000-word exposé of the Trump Administration’s takeover of the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety program.  It focuses on the outsized role played by Dr. Nancy Beck, who arrived at the Agency on May 1 fresh from her job as a senior official at the chemical industry’s main trade association, the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

For those who have not had the chance to read the article, I provide here my take on some of its most compelling and disturbing findings:

  1. Immediately upon her arrival at EPA as a political appointee, Dr. Beck made extensive changes to the near-final “framework rules” implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act.
  2. Dr. Beck’s changes were objected to by career staff in multiple offices across the Agency.
  3. Dr. Beck is actively working to jettison proposed rules that would ban high-risk uses of trichloroethylene and methylene chloride.
  4. Dr. Beck has been cleared to work on issues directly relating to her prior employer’s interests.
  5. While at ACC, Dr. Beck frequently worked with Michael Dourson, the industry toxicologist-for-hire that President Trump nominated to head the EPA chemical safety office and who is facing stiff opposition from many Senators.

For a bit more detail on each of these, keep reading.   Read More »

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

Dourson’s account of his work on PFOA is incomplete and misleading

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

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

In testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) on October 4 and in responses to Questions for the Record submitted by Senators after the hearing, Michael Dourson, the Trump Administration’s nominee to run EPA’s chemical safety program, provided information about his work on a DuPont chemical called PFOA (also known as C8) that is incomplete and misleading.  His selective responses to Senators’ questions reinforce the already serious concerns about his nomination and his suitability for the job.   Read More »

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