EDF Health

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 »

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The Trump EPA is throwing workers facing risks from new TSCA chemicals under the bus

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

[For more on this topic, see our recent 3-part myth-busting series:
Part 1          Part 2         Part 3]

We have blogged before (see here and here) about the steps initiated in mid-2018 by the Trump EPA to weaken new chemical reviews under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – rendering them even less health-protective than under TSCA prior to the 2016 reforms enacted in the Lautenberg Act.

As these debilitating policy changes – still never publicly described or released, and apparently still not written down even for use within EPA – have taken hold, we have seen dozens of flawed new chemical decisions emerge.  We blogged extensively about the first such decision made under the new regimen in late July 2018.  Since then, about 60 more final determinations reflecting the new policies have been posted on EPA’s website.  These decisions pertain mostly to premanufacture notifications (PMNs), along with a few for significant new use notices (SNUNs).  At least 80% of these chemicals were cleared to enter commerce without being subject to any conditions whatsoever.  EPA accomplished this by issuing a final determination that each cleared chemical, or significant new use of a chemical, is “not likely to present an unreasonable risk.”  For these determinations, EPA is required under TSCA to post a statement of its finding, which it does in another table on its website.

We have been closely examining these “not likely” determination documents.  Some deeply disturbing patterns are emerging.  This post will describe one of them.

A new addition to the long and growing list of illegal actions EPA has taken to render the new chemicals program weaker than under the old TSCA.

Most striking is that for a significant majority of these chemicals, EPA either identified significant risks to workers or indicated it had insufficient information to determine the level of risk to workers.  Under the 2016 reforms to TSCA, either finding – that there are or may be risks or that there is insufficient information to determine the level of risk – requires EPA to issue an order specifying conditions sufficient to eliminate the risk.  Yet EPA did no such thing; instead, it cleared the chemicals for unfettered market access.   Read More »

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The Trump EPA’s actions on formaldehyde can be summed up in one word: Corrupt

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

Today, Heidi Vogt at the Wall Street Journal reported on the systematic efforts by the Trump Administration to derail chemical assessments under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS).   

Decisions are being made as I write by conflicted EPA political appointees, not only to derail the beleaguered IRIS assessment for the carcinogen formaldehyde, but to transfer any further assessment of the chemical to be under the control of those same political appointees.

The WSJ article cites an upcoming report by Congress’ Government Accountability Office (GAO) that notes “EPA leadership in October directed the heads of the agency’s various programs to limit the number of chemicals they wanted IRIS to study or continue researching.  Nine of 16 assessments were then dropped, including one that looked at whether exposure to formaldehyde increases the risk of leukemia that ‘has been drafted and is ready to be released for public comment.’ ”  The chemical industry has long sought to undermine the findings of numerous governmental authorities that have identified the dangers posed by formaldehyde, one of the industry’s biggest cash cows.

IRIS itself has also long been a target of the chemical and allied industries, including those well represented by EPA political appointees who are now able to drive the assault on IRIS from inside the agency.

This post will provide more of the backstory to the WSJ’s excellent reporting.  It reveals additional decisions being made as I write by conflicted political appointees, not only to derail the beleaguered IRIS assessment for formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, but to transfer any further assessment of the chemical to be under the control of those same political appointees.  What is happening here we believe is ripe for further investigation.   Read More »

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ACC to retailers, consumers, and the rest of us: You just don’t get that TSCA implementation is coming along swimmingly

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

Regular readers of this blog know it is our view that, under the Trump EPA, implementation of the 2016 reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has pretty much gone off the rails, deviating from what the law requires, failing to reflect the best available science, and not protecting public health.  It’s a view shared by, among others, former top EPA officials, members of Congress, state and local governments, labor groups, firefighters, water utilities, public health groups, and a broad range of environmental groups.

But in this era of alternative facts, the chemical industry says that’s because we’re all simply misinformed.  And it’s taking steps to correct those alleged misperceptions.   Read More »

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The Trump EPA’s first TSCA risk evaluation is an epic fail

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

Yesterday Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed more than 100 pages of comments on a 40-page draft risk evaluation the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has prepared for Pigment Violet 29 (PV29).  PV29 is the first of 10 chemicals undergoing risk evaluations under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Our comments were so much longer than the EPA document we were commenting on because there was far more to say about what information EPA failed to obtain, make available or consider than what EPA included in its draft.

The essence of our lengthy comments can be boiled down to a single sentence, however:  EPA has utterly failed to demonstrate that PV29 does not present unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.

For folks who want somewhat more detail than this, our comments start with a 4-page Executive Summary that capsulizes the many serious deficiencies we identified in EPA’s draft.  I’ll provide some highlights in this post.   Read More »

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The Trump EPA’s first risk evaluation under the new TSCA is a house of cards

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

I’ve been blogging about the deep problems surrounding the first draft risk evaluation the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released under the recently amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  This risk evaluation, which is now out for public comment, is on a chemical commonly called Pigment Violet 29, or PV29.  Among the many problems that immediately jumped out as we began our review of this draft evaluation are EPA’s reliance on clearly inadequate health and environmental hazard data to conclude the chemical is safe, as well as EPA’s illegal withholding from the public of the little hazard information it does have.

I suppose if you start with almost no reliable data on a chemical, are dead set against using your enhanced authorities to get any more data, and are hell-bent on finding the chemical is safe, this is how you might choose to conduct a risk evaluation.

This post will look at the other half of the risk equation, exposure.  EPA has even less information on exposures to PV29 than it does on hazard.  EPA has no actual data on the levels of PV29 released to or present in air, soil, sediment, surface water, people, other organisms, workplaces or products containing or made from the chemical.  It lacks any data from, and hasn’t used its authorities to require, monitoring in workplaces or any environmental media.

So what does EPA have?   Read More »

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