EDF Health

Latest available national data shows increase in blood lead levels for at least 2 million kids

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report summarizing the biomonitoring data from its National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Given EDF’s focus on protecting children from lead exposure, we went straight to the most recent blood lead monitoring results. The results are disturbing. As shown in Figure 1 below, after years of progress, in 2015-16 the blood lead levels (BLLs) of more than 2 million young children[1] increased:

  • Average child BLL: 48% BLL decrease from 2007-8 to 2013-14 but only a 3% decrease in 2015-16.
  • 75th percentile BLL (75% of children are below this level): 51% decrease from 2007-8 to 2013-14 but a 2% increase in 2015-16.
  • 90th percentile BLL: 51% decrease from 2007-8 to 2013-14 but an 18% increase in 2015-16.
  • 95th percentile BLL: 45% decrease from 2007-8 to 2013-14 but a 23% increase in 2015-16.

As with the smaller uptick in 2007-08 (which may have been related to the housing crises), it may only be short-term setback, nonetheless it bears careful examination.

Even more disturbing is the Trump Administration’s response to this information. The Administration:

  • Ignored the data in the rosy picture of progress it painted in its recent Lead Action Plan; and
  • Appears to be repeating mistakes of the past by proposing to slash CDC’s childhood lead poisoning prevention budget in half.

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Wheeler piles on more deception trying to defend EPA’s corrupt actions on formaldehyde

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

In a series of recent hearings Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler has sought to justify his and his agency’s corrupt decisions to kill off a health assessment of formaldehyde done by career scientists in the agency’s science arm (IRIS) and resurrect it under the control of conflicted political appointees.

Once again, the Trump EPA is elevating private interests over the public interest – and offering up deceptions to try to obfuscate and cover up its real intent.

Recall that under Wheeler’s and his predecessor’s leadership, a draft of the IRIS assessment, ready since fall 2017 for release for public comment and peer review, has been suppressed.  Also recall that EPA leadership ran a phony priority-setting process last fall under the direction of yet another conflicted political appointee in order to claim that the IRIS formaldehyde assessment is no longer a priority for the agency.  Aspects of this scheme were highlighted in a recent report of Congress’ Government Accountability Office (GAO).  Finally, recall that a scant few weeks after that pronouncement, EPA declared last month that it intends to name formaldehyde a “high-priority substance” under TSCA.

Now to the next installment in this corrupt scheme:  Read More »

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PART 3: Busting more industry-perpetrated myths about new chemicals and worker protection under TSCA

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

Part 1          Part 2         Part 3

I have been blogging in the last few weeks about myths the chemical industry is perpetrating about the adequacy and legality of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent reviews of the risks that chemicals just entering the market may present to workers.  In this post, I address another such myth that, unfortunately, EPA has swallowed hook, line, and sinker.  This myth was laid out by one of the industry witnesses at the March 13 House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on EPA’s failures to protect workers from chemical risks.

One wonders when EPA will start doing what Congress told it to do, first in 1976 and then again, with renewed vigor in 2016:  Protect workers under TSCA – using TSCA’s authorities to meet TSCA’s health standard, not OSHA’s.

I’ll get to this third myth in a moment.  But let me first try to crystallize what is at stake in this debate.  While the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has always given EPA authority to regulate workplace risks, the 2016 amendments to TSCA strengthened EPA’s authority and mandate to protect workers.  TSCA now expressly identifies workers as a “potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulation.”  See the definition of that term in paragraph 12 here.  TSCA then requires EPA to identify and assess potential risks to such subpopulations when reviewing both new and existing chemicals.  Finally, it requires EPA to use its TSCA authorities to impose restrictions on any chemical found to present an “unreasonable risk” – which is TSCA’s health standard – to any such subpopulation.

In a word, TSCA requires EPA to protect workers under TSCA – using TSCA’s authorities to meet TSCA’s health standard, not OSHA’s.

Both before and after the 2016 TSCA amendments, the chemical industry has sought to compel or convince EPA not to regulate workplaces under TSCA, and instead to defer to OSHA.  Industry wants this because OSHA’s authority and capacity are severely limited and its legal requirements for regulating toxic substances (“health standards” in OSHA parlance) allow vastly greater risks to workers than do TSCA’s (see my previous post).

Sadly, under the Trump EPA, industry is getting its wish.  At industry’s urging, EPA is acting in a manner that is wholly contrary to TSCA – and is less health-protective than even under TSCA before the 2016 reforms.

Now let’s get back to more myth-busting.   Read More »

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Laws in states with the most lead service lines support using rates to fund replacement on private property: New analysis

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

We found no explicit barriers to using rate funds to replace the lines on private property in the 13 we focused on. These states have an estimated 4.2 million LSLs, more than two-thirds of the nation’s total

Lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes that connect a building’s plumbing to the water main under the street – are a significant source of lead in drinking water for those homes that have them. In light of the well-documented benefits to society from reducing children’s exposure to lead, there is a consensus that we need to replace the estimated six million LSLs remaining in the country. It will take time, but it needs to be done.

One challenge to this goal is how to fund replacement of the portion of the service line on private property. Because LSLs extend from under the street to a building, typically about half of the line is on public property and half is on private property. The perception among utilities has been that they do not have the legal authority to use rates paid by customers to cover the cost of replacing the portion on private property because it provides a benefit only to that property owner. This view was reinforced when the Wisconsin Public Service Commission blocked Madison from doing it, forcing the city to use other funds to complete the work. That decision from the early 2000s came before the risks of even low-level exposure to lead were well understood.

Many utilities have therefore taken to replacing only the portion of the LSL on public property when the property owner is unwilling or unable to pay to replace the portion on private property. The practice, often called “partial replacement,” is not only inefficient but can actually exacerbate residents’ exposure to lead. As evidence of the risks of even low-level exposure to lead—and of the society-wide benefits of reducing lead exposure—have mounted and the tragedy in Flint, Michigan made clear the need to replace LSLs, states like Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even Wisconsin, have adopted new laws or policies that have allowed funds from rates, with some limitations, to be used to replace the side on private property. Michigan has gone further and adopted rules mandating the practice, although some utilities have challenged the rule in court.

Given the funding challenge and the trends in the states, EDF partnered with the Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School to review the state laws and policies in the 13 states with the most LSLs. Clinic Deputy Director Shaun Goho and law student Marcello Saenz conducted a state-by-state review of the laws, court decisions, and policies. The authors:

Found no explicit barriers to using rate funds to replace the lines on private property. These states have an estimated 4.2 million LSLs, more than two-thirds of the nation’s total. In these states, publicly-owned utilities can act pursuant to existing state legislation by determining that the practice serves a public purpose—protecting public health. Investor-owned utilities can do the same, but typically need approval of the state’s utility commission. While we have not reviewed the remaining states, we anticipate that the state laws and policies are similar to the ones we evaluated.

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EPA’s Naming of Formaldehyde as a Candidate for High Priority Under TSCA Raises Serious Concerns

Statement of Dr. Richard Denison, Lead Senior Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund 

EPA’s statement today regarding its inclusion of formaldehyde on the list of chemicals under consideration for prioritization for risk evaluation under TSCA leaves many questions unanswered.

EPA states that ‘the work done for IRIS will inform the TSCA process.’ Such consideration is already required by law.

What is absolutely essential is that the IRIS program be able to complete its assessment of formaldehyde, which has been suppressed for the last year and a half by conflicted EPA political appointees.  Then EPA’s TSCA office, just like every other EPA office, can and should rely on it to make regulatory decisions.

It’s time that political interference in the agency’s science stop.”

For more information see the following EDF blog post: The Trump EPA’s actions on formaldehyde can be summed up in one word: Corrupt.

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Important insight from the organic certification approach to chemical additives in food

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Since 2014, chemicals in food[1] have been consumers’ most important food safety issue, reaching a high of 35% in 2018, according to annual industry surveys by the International Food Information Council. For comparison, “foodborne illness from bacteria” was half that percent.

Food companies have responded to this growing consumer alarm by adopting policies banning artificial flavors, colors and other ingredients that sound like chemicals. This approach is unlikely to do more than serve as window dressing for the underlying problems since it’s not science-based – many of these additives may be safe. The Center for Science in the Public Interest called out this practice in its 2017 “Clean Label: Public Relations or Public Health?” report and pointed readers to its Chemical Cuisine system that rates common additives for health and safety.

There are some companies, like Panera Bread, that are taking a more systematic approach to the ingredients used in the food they sell, starting with the question of whether the additives used are essential and whether the ingredients pose health or safety concerns. As a result, the company worked closely with their suppliers and reformulated many of their products.

And now, thanks to a fascinating new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), we are learning about another structured approach that addresses health concerns with chemical additives – the Federal organic certification program for processed foods. To be honest, before reading the report, I viewed the organic program as narrowly focused on pesticides and was only vaguely aware of how it dealt with chemical additives. I was missing the bigger picture.

Read More »

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