EDF Health

EPA’s draft risk evaluation of trichloroethylene contains major scientific flaws that understate the chemical’s risk and demand robust review

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

Yesterday Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed comments on the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft risk evaluation for the highly toxic chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE.

This draft, readers will recall, is the document that the Trump White House forced EPA to dramatically weaken just prior to public release, as reported in detail by Elizabeth Shogren of Reveal News.

It is also the document that EPA seems intent on subjecting to a rushed peer review next week in a 4-day virtual meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) – despite numerous reasons why, in the midst of the current COVID-19 public health crisis, such a meeting simply will not provide the robust scientific review that this draft warrants.  EDF has urged EPA to postpone the SACC review so that it can be done under circumstances that are conducive to a proper review and fair to SACC members and stakeholders who would like to participate.

EDF submitted comments yesterday in order to meet the very tight deadline EPA set for comments if they are to be considered by the SACC.  Our comments raise numerous scientific deficiencies in EPA’s draft.  These flaws arise from a host of unwarranted and unsupported assumptions and methodological approaches that systematically lead EPA to understate the risks posed by this chemical to pregnant women, infants and children; to workers; to consumers; to the public; and to the environment.

Exposure to TCE is ubiquitous, coming from ambient and indoor air, vapor intrusion from contaminated sites, groundwater and drinking water wells, and food – yet EPA’s draft ignores or downplays each of these exposure sources and pathways.

It is vital that the current public health crisis caused by COVID-19 not be allowed to compromise the quality and integrity of scientific assessments of other critical public health risks we face.

Below I summarize some of the major concerns in EPA’s draft that we address in detail in our commentsRead More »

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EPA needs to postpone next week’s peer review of its draft risk evaluation of trichloroethylene

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

As we all deal with an emerging major health crisis, it is critical that the quality of ongoing work on other issues vital to protecting public health is not sacrificed or compromised as a result.  Given this, we strongly urge EPA to postpone next week’s peer review of its draft risk evaluation of trichloroethylene.

A few short weeks ago, EPA issued a draft risk evaluation for a highly toxic chemical, trichloroethylene or TCE.  The draft is many hundreds of pages long (thousands of pages counting supplemental files).  EPA also scheduled the peer review by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) for next week, March 24-27.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the time frame EPA provided for getting meaningful expert review of this important document was already questionable.  Now it is simply untenable.

As of now, EPA intends to proceed with the meeting as a virtual meeting.  While traveling to a meeting next week should of course be off the table, proceeding with a virtual meeting at this point is asking far too much of SACC members and their families and will clearly lead to a severely compromised peer review.  Consider, for example:

  • SACC members who are dealing with their own and their families’ health and well-being, are now being asked to spend dozens of hours over 4 days next week trying to participate in the virtual meeting. We all know how hard that is to do under normal circumstances.  It is unrealistic and unfair to expect it under our current circumstances.
  • Some SACC members are themselves members of the public health community that are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Many or most SACC members are faculty at colleges and universities, and hence are likely already grappling as part of their day jobs with a shift to online teaching.
  • SACC members are being expected to have found the time in these recent chaotic days to have read these massive documents, draft initial comments and be prepared to discuss all of this next week.
  • Stakeholders are preparing comments for the SACC’s consideration, which are due this Wednesday. SACC members are expected to review these materials on top of everything else.
  • Stakeholders from health and labor groups who have been participating in the risk evaluation process by providing comments to the SACC as well as EPA are presently consumed with addressing COVID-19 issues facing their members and constituents.

As we are learning in real time during this unfolding health crisis, ensuring there is sound expert input into public health decisions is absolutely essential.  We cannot let the current crisis result in a weakening of the quality and credibility of scientific input on other important public health issues.

EPA needs to promptly postpone the SACC peer review of TCE and reschedule it at a time and in a manner that respects the critical role the SACC plays.

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Reveal News exposes Trump Administration’s disregard for protecting the public from a highly dangerous chemical: 5 key takeaways

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

This weekend, Elizabeth Shogren at Reveal News published an in-depth investigative report and hour-long radio segment delving into the Trump EPA’s latest abandonment of science and its serious consequences for public health.  The story focuses on the ubiquitous solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), a known human carcinogen and neurotoxicant that is also linked to birth defects at very low levels of exposure.

In reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 2016, Congress directed EPA to conduct comprehensive reviews of the risks posed by TCE and other widely used chemicals.  EPA was charged with identifying risks both to the general public and to “vulnerable subpopulations,” including pregnant women, infants, workers, and others.

EPA’s draft risk evaluation of TCE was released on February 21.  It suffers from many of the same gaping flaws as do EPA’s draft risk evaluations for other chemicals.  Once again, EPA has utterly failed to carry out the clear intent of the law, putting our health at greater risk.

  • EPA has ignored all exposures of the general population to TCE that arise from releases of the chemical to air, water and land – amounting to millions of pounds annually.
  • EPA has once again assumed, without any supporting data, that workers will wear personal protective equipment and that it will be effective in eliminating or reducing exposures.
  • EPA has inflated the acceptable level of risk of cancer that will allow workers to be exposed to as much as 100 times more of the chemical.

“This decision is grave. It not only underestimates the lifelong risks of the chemical, especially to the developing fetus, it also presents yet another example of this administration bowing to polluters’ interests over public health.”

Dr. Jennifer McPartland

But in this new draft EPA has gone even further in abandoning both science and the law.  Reveal’s exposé identifies key changes made at the 11th hour to the draft that were forced on career staff at the agency by the White House.

Here are five key takeaways from the Reveal story:  Read More »

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EPA’s draft risk evaluation of carbon tetrachloride is riddled with unsupported exclusions and assumptions

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

Next week, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC), established under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to peer-review EPA’s draft chemical risk evaluations, will meet to review the latest of those drafts, for the likely human carcinogen carbon tetrachloride.

As with other recent draft risk evaluations, EPA has been scheduling the SACC meetings in the middle of rather than following the public comment period.  This means the public has at best a few weeks to digest these huge documents and draft and submit comments in order to have them be part of the record that the SACC is allowed to take into consideration in its peer review.

However, we have learned that EPA is now further constraining the SACC’s schedule, requesting that the panel members come to the peer review meeting with their comments already drafted, and then delivering their final report within 60 days rather than the 90 days previously provided.  These developments further jam both the public and the SACC in their efforts to ensure EPAs work is subject to a robust peer review.

Whatever the reasons for EPA making these changes, EDF decided to expedite our initial comments to seek to ensure they could be considered.  We submitted comments last week, a full week before the February 19 deadline, to ensure the SACC received and had sufficient time to review them in advance of the peer review meeting.

We deemed this critical because of the glaring gaps and flaws in EPA’s draft that lead it yet again to drastically understate the risks of this chemical.  These include the same problems that have plagued the draft risk evaluations for other chemicals, as well as new ones.  Read More »

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The Trump EPA’s “Working Approach” to new chemical reviews is only working for the chemical industry

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

On Tuesday EDF filed detailed comments on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Working Approach to Making New Chemical Determinations under TSCA.”

The document is a major disappointment, to say the least.  The Trump EPA has worked very hard to render this long-awaited update of its approach to reviewing new chemicals under TSCA an empty exercise.  Despite Administrator Wheeler’s promises in January 2019 to the contrary:

  • EPA has still failed to provide any legal or scientific justification for its Working Approach.
  • EPA provided no actual response to the many detailed comments it received on its 2017 framework, instead issuing a 1.5-page document that dismisses many of the comments merely as having “stemmed from a misunderstanding of the Agency’s intent.”
  • EPA held a public meeting – but did so without first providing the Working Approach to stakeholders; EPA then limited their comments at the meeting to 2-3 minutes each and ended the meeting well ahead of schedule.
  • EPA’s new framework ignores the earlier comments it received, retaining all of the core flaws of the 2017 Framework and in fact doubling down on several of them.

Most remarkably, EPA seems to want to make clear that the Working Approach is hardly worth the paper on which it is written.  Read More »

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A closer look at the environmental justice implications of EPA’s proposed lead in water rule

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director, Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager, and Sam Lovell, Project Manager.

See all blogs in our LCR series.

Household-level changes that depend on ability-to-pay will leave low-income households with disproportionately higher health risks.

 

EPA Environmental Justice Analysis of the proposed rule.

Reviewing a rulemaking docket can be intimidating, especially for a major rule like the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), which includes 853 supporting documents and tens of thousands of pages. Though we cannot claim to have read all of the documents, we did a targeted scan of key materials, knowing that they often yield insights and results that are lost in the summary that appears in the Federal Register. 

The effort for us paid off when we read EPA’s Environmental Justice (EJ) Analysis of the LCR proposal revisions (the Proposal), commissioned in response to Executive Order 12898. The Order directs agencies to identify and address, “as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations” in rulemaking. The agency’s contractor essentially found:

  • The current LCR disproportionately impacts low-income and minority populations as they are more likely to live in older housing that has lead service lines (LSLs), the most significant source of lead in drinking water.
  • The Proposal’s corrosion control requirements should help reduce current disparities. Because water treatment is consistent across an entire community, stronger requirements that reduce the ability of lead to leach into water from LSLs, leaded solder, and other sources should mitigate, but not eliminate, the disproportionate burden in homes with LSLs.
  • The Proposal may make disparities worse if it depends on individual household’s ability to pay for LSL replacement (LSLR). The report stated that “Household-level changes that depend on ability-to-pay will leave low-income households with disproportionately higher health risks.”[1]

In the Federal Register notice, EPA glossed over the third point and concluded that the Proposal is “not expected to have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations and low-income populations.”[2] The agency ignores the fact that the Proposal makes no change to the current LCR provisions that rely on a household’s ability to pay when it says water systems are “not required to bear the cost of removal of the portion of the [LSL] it does not own.”[3] We are aware of only a small – but growing – number of communities that have funding options to assist households with the cost of LSLR on private property.

Read More »

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