EDF Health

Promising proposal for addressing lead in schools and licensed child care – but gaps remain

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

See all blogs in our LCR series.

Through its proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA made the unprecedented move of proposing to require community water systems (CWSs) to test for lead in water at all schools and licensed child care facilities constructed prior to 2014. The current rule only requires testing if the facility is itself a regulated water system (e.g., uses own private well). While EDF fully supports testing in these facilities, we are concerned that EPA has overlooked several major issues, especially in the child care context.

Based on our experience – including a pilot project to test and remediate lead in 11 child care facilities, a training program for child care providers in Illinois, and monitoring of state child care testing requirements across the country – we believe that addressing lead in child care facilities is an important opportunity to improve public health. Though schools are also critical, we’ve focused on child care facilities as they present a major gap due to a number of reasons. First, children under the age of six are more susceptible to the harmful effects of lead – and those at the highest risk are infants who are fed formula reconstituted with tap water. Second, child care, especially home-based facilities, are often smaller operations than schools, and therefore more likely to have a lead service line. Finally, child care facilities often lack robust facility support and public accountability that schools may have.

From our background on this issue, we have identified three key flaws with EPA’s proposal. Specifically, it:

  1. Ignores lead service lines,
  2. Relies on inadequate sampling, and
  3. Does not provide sufficient support for remediation.

We also are concerned that the result of this proposed rule may sound like “one hand clapping.” If state licensing agencies and local health departments are not requiring or promoting testing, child care facilities are unlikely to cooperate, making it more difficult for CWSs to comply with the requirement. For this requirement to have greatest effect, CWSs need the support and participation of all parties involved.

This blog will provide an overview of EPA’s proposed requirement and an analysis of each of the key issues. Read More »

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Finally something we can (mostly) commend EPA for doing under TSCA

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

Readers of this blog will know how concerned EDF is with ensuring the public’s right to know about chemicals to which they may be exposed.  We have repeatedly sounded the alarm when EPA has taken steps to deny public access to chemical information, whether for chemicals entering the market or those already in commerce.  Even in recent months, EPA has sided with chemical companies in denying access to health and safety information on chemicals EPA is assessing under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

So we were pleasantly surprised by a letter to an industry group that EPA posted on Friday.  Read More »

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Top takeaways from The Intercept’s investigation into Trump’s toxic rollbacks

Regulatory decisions by federal agencies in Washington often feel distant – bureaucrats moving paper in ways that don’t matter to regular people. But a devastating new story by reporter Sharon Lerner of The Intercept makes clear just how awful the Trump administration’s actions on chemical safety have been for average Americans.

Lerner shows that the Trump EPA has repeatedly bowed to industry lobbyists to allow dangerous chemicals to stay on or enter the market with little or no restrictions.

EPA’s actions are not abstract bureaucratic events to Angela Ramirez, who was diagnosed with breast cancer after years of living and working “near two facilities that were emitting a cancer-causing chemical called ethylene oxide.” EPA scientists knew “that exposure to ethylene oxide caused elevated rates of tumors in the brain, lungs, uterus, and lymph systems” – but under the Trump administration, following pressure from an industry trade group, EPA decided not to follow its own science deciding whether to limit the chemical.

Lerner reports that the Trump administration, stacked with political appointees who have worked, lobbied or advocated for the chemical, tobacco, and coal industries, has been systematically undermining EPA’s ability to use the best science and get the best expert advice to protect families. They’ve been attacking programs like the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS, which provides evidenced-based analysis to the government to make public health decisions.

From Texas to Delaware and across the country, Lerner shows the impact of an administration that seems entirely focused on doing the bidding of industry, rather than pursing its legal mission to protect public health. They are doing so both broadly – weakening a new chemical safety law –and in a series of individual chemical assessment decisions. “Each time we see one of these assessments, there are ways in which the science has been played with,” EDF’s Lead Senior Scientist Richard Denison told Lerner.

To read more about what Lerner calls “Trump’s cancer gang” and their attacks on science and public health, check out her full article.

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The Trump EPA says “precede” means “follow”

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

[Corrections added below in bracketed italics on 1-17-20]

Last month EPA finally released its long-awaited update to its controversial 2017 New Chemicals Decision-Making Framework, which describes how EPA is conducting risk reviews of new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  While we are still reviewing it and will be filing comments, it is clear the new document suffers from many of the same problems as the prior version, as well as raising additional concerns.

A core problem of both documents is EPA’s illegal bifurcation of its treatment of a new chemical’s “intended” conditions of use – those proposed by the company submitting a premanufacture notification (PMN) to EPA – from the chemical’s “reasonably foreseen” conditions of use.  EPA does so despite TSCA’s clear instruction that EPA address potential risks from both categories in an integrated manner and at the same time.  EPA’s frameworks instead relegate any consideration of “reasonably foreseen” conditions of use to a separate, later process undertaken upon receipt of a separate notification submitted to EPA in response to a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) – assuming EPA has actually promulgated a final SNUR for the chemical in question.

EPA has now used this bifurcated approach to greenlight hundreds of new chemicals for market entry – finding that they are “not likely to present an unreasonable risk” based on a review only of the chemicals’ intended conditions of use.  EDF has blogged in detail about the inadequacies of EPA’s “SNUR-only approach” and the disturbing extent of its application.

EPA has yet to provide any legal justification for its approach – how it believes the approach comports with TSCA – let alone demonstrate how it provides for protection of health and the environment despite deviating from what Congress intended EPA do under the law.

How on earth can EPA assert with a straight face that it is promulgating SNURs that precede its “not likely” determinations?

While we will have much more to say on the new framework, in the remainder of this post I want to focus on EPA’s characterization of its reliance on the SNUR-only approach.  EPA now says it has expanded that approach to two different scenarios:  One is “SNURs that Precede “Not Likely” Determinations” and the other is “SNURs that Follow “Not Likely” Determinations.”

We have examined the accuracy of EPA’s claim that the first type of SNUR precedes EPA’s “Not Likely” determination for a given new chemical.  The timing is critical here:  If there is a significant lag between EPA’s “Not Likely” determination and the issuance of a SNUR, all kinds of problems arise, which we have discussed previously.  To name two:

  • If a company engages in what EPA plans to deem a “significant new use” during the gap between the determination and at least proposal of a SNUR, then EPA cannot subject that use to the notification requirements of the SNUR because the use is “ongoing” and no longer “new.” That includes a new use engaged in by the company that got a green light for its chemical based on EPA’s review of only its intended conditions of use.
  • Such a company that wants to have the ability to engage in uses beyond those it said it initially intended would have serious incentives to seek to avoid having EPA issue the SNUR. Because SNURs are done through rulemaking, the company can urge EPA to block or modify the SNUR through the rulemaking process.  It can also apply pressure on EPA not to pursue a SNUR at all.

So is EPA being accurate when it claims that a large number of its SNURs precede EPA’s “Not Likely” determination for those same new chemicals?

The answer is a resounding no:  Read More »

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More words minced this time, but EPA’s science advisors raise serious concerns with its draft risk evaluation of 1-bromopropane

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

The peer review report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) on EPA’s draft risk evaluation of 1-bromopropane (1-BP) has been released.  This carcinogenic solvent is one of the first 10 chemicals undergoing risk evaluation under the amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and the new SACC report covers the fourth of EPA’s draft risk evaluations (DREs) to be peer-reviewed.  We’ve blogged earlier about the SACC’s reports on EPA’s draft risk evaluations for 1,4-dioxane and HBCD and Pigment Violet 29.

At first blush, the new report reads less harshly than the last one, and the SACC notes clear improvements in the content and organization of the 1-BP draft over earlier ones.  But even the Executive Summary raises quite scathing criticisms that go to the heart of whether EPA has developed sufficient data to support its risk determinations for this chemical.  Here is a telling excerpt (p. 17, emphases added):

Overall, the Committee concurred that even though data provided in the DRE underestimated risk, these data did support the finding of unreasonable risk to consumers and occupational conditions, including occupational non-users. Conversely, inadequate data were presented for a robust risk characterization for the environmental assessment, and the information provided did not support the conclusion of “no unreasonable risk to the environment.”

These conclusions mirror those drawn by EDF in the comments we submitted to EPA on the 1-BP DRE.

Themes sounded by the SACC in its earlier peer reviews came up again here.  Read More »

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Which faucets and fixtures have the lowest lead levels? California asks plumbing manufacturers.

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick is a Program Manager.

Until California Water Board publishes its lists of fixtures that leach minimal lead, we recommend that schools and child care facilities routinely flush newly installed drinking water fixtures for several weeks and retest before allowing children to consume the water.

In November, the California Water Board took an important step that should benefit anyone seeking to buy a new faucet, drinking water fountain or other fixture – especially schools and child care facilities. The Board sent letters to more than 300 plumbing manufacturers and certifiers asking them to voluntarily provide information on fixtures that leach minimal lead. Specifically, it seeks to identify fixtures that meet lead leaching limits that are five times more protective than the current limits in the NSF/ANSI 61 standard.

The Board plans to make the compiled responses publicly available and encourage the 14,000 licensed child care centers in the state to buy new fixtures from those on the list when water testing indicates the fixture should be replaced. We anticipate that the Board will utilize the list to identify fixtures to purchase through a $5 million grant program the California State General Legislature established when it enacted AB-2370 last year. The funds are designed to help licensed child care facilities meet the state’s new mandated water testing and remediation program.

Read More »

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