Category Archives: EPA

Report: Staggering amounts of toxic chemicals produced across America

Alissa Sasso is a Chemicals Policy FellowRichard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.

[Cross-posted from EDFVoices blog]

Recent spills in West Virginia and North Carolina cast a spotlight on toxic hazards in our midst. But as bad as they are, these acute incidents pale in scope compared to the chronic flow of hazardous chemicals coursing through our lives each day with little notice and minimal regulation. A new report by EDF, Toxics Across America, tallies billions of pounds of chemicals in the American marketplace that are known or strongly suspected to cause increasingly common disorders, including certain cancers, developmental disabilities, and infertility.

While it’s no secret that modern society consumes huge amounts of chemicals, many of them dangerous, it is surprisingly difficult to get a handle on the actual numbers. And under current law it’s harder still to find out where and how these substances are used, though we know enough to establish that a sizeable share of them end up in one form or another in the places where we live and work.

Our new report looks at 120 chemicals that have been identified by multiple federal, state and international officials as known or suspected health hazards. Using the latest, albeit limited, data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we identify which of these chemicals are in commerce in the U.S.; in what amounts they are being made; which companies are producing or importing them; where they are being produced or imported; and how they are being used. An interactive online map accompanying the report lets the user access the report’s data and search by chemical, by company, by state, and by site location.

Among our findings:  Read More »

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

This SNUR is not a SNORE!

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Yesterday EPA finalized a significant new use rule (SNUR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that requires manufacturers and importers of certain perfluorinated chemicals to notify EPA at least 90 days before commencing any “significant new use” of these chemicals.  (See below for what EPA has designated to be a “significant new use.”)

These notifications afford EPA an opportunity to evaluate the designated new uses before they start and address any risks the new uses may pose.  Read on to learn more about some novel aspects of this final rule, including the scope of what EPA has designated as significant new uses of these chemicals.  Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Regulation | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Stymied at every turn: EPA withdraws two draft TSCA proposals in the face of endless delay at OMB

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

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn two draft rules it had developed under authority of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  EPA originally sent the proposed rules to the White House for its review way back in 2010 and 2011. 

Despite a clear requirement that White House reviews of draft proposed rules be completed within 90 days, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) [which is part of the Office of Management and Budget, OMB] sat on these two draft proposals for 1,213 and 619 days, respectively.  Faced presumably with the reality that OIRA was never going to let EPA even propose the rules for public comment, EPA decided to withdraw them.  Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Regulation | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

EDF comments at EPA workshop on applying systematic review methodology to IRIS assessments

Rachel Shaffer is a research assistant.

Lately, much of the attention of the environmental health community has been focused on Capitol Hill and the Lautenberg-Vitter chemical safety reform bill that would amend the antiquated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Yet significant – if somewhat esoteric – developments are underway at EPA that will also have major impacts on how the safety of chemicals is assessed.  EPA has been implementing improvements to its Integrated Risk Information System, commonly known as “IRIS.” The purpose of the IRIS program is to evaluate information on the effects of potential exposures to environmental substances and provide health hazard assessments, which are then used to support regulatory decisions across the agency.  And while it isn’t directly affected by TSCA or its reform, IRIS provides both indirect and direct support to the office at EPA that does administer TSCA.  

In other words, what happens in IRIS doesn’t stay in IRIS.

So… what’s IRIS up to? Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Health Science | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Avoiding conflict and delay: EDF comments to yet another IRIS review panel

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

Chemical industry representatives and their consultants often argue that they should be on panels reviewing government assessments of their chemicals because “they know their chemicals best.”  Well, the mother of a young man accused of a crime may well know her son better than anyone – but that doesn’t mean we should seat mom on the jury.

I made that comment as part of my public comments delivered at this week's meeting of a new committee formed by EPA's Science Advisory Board, which has a charge of peer reviewing chemical assessments developed by EPA's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program.  (If you're a regular reader of this blog and you feel like you're having a déjà vu, yes, this is yet another panel set up to oversee or assess IRIS; see this earlier post.)  I felt compelled to make that comment in part because in the preceding day and a half of the meeting, well over half of the comments offered by the 26-member committee came from just four of those members, all of them industry consultants.

It turns out that the assigned members of the committee, named the Chemical Assessment Advisory Committee, or CAAC (I recommend just saying C-A-A-C, rather than trying to pronounce the acronym), have not yet been screened for potential conflicts of interest (COI) or lack of impartiality.  This step won't happen until later, when a subset of committee members are tapped to serve on a review panel for a specific IRIS assessment.  But this process made for an awkward meeting, which was supposed to be limited to a "fact-finding" briefing by the IRIS program, but constantly veered into territory verging on providing advice to EPA (again dominated by the industry consultants).  Federal law requires that any committee offering such advice be free of conflicts of interest in all but the most exceptional of circumstances.

In my comments, I raised concerns about the high potential for conflicts of interest to arise, given the composition of the committee.  I also reiterated the points I have made to other similar panels that getting the science right in IRIS needs to be balanced with ensuring that IRIS assessments are completed in a timely manner — because there are real-world adverse public health consequences to the delays that have plagued the IRIS program.

Read on for my full comments. Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Health Science | Tagged | Comments closed

A mission corrupted: Your tax dollars pay for ACC to coach big industry on how to undercut EPA’s IRIS program

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

On February 22, the Advocacy Office of the Small Business Administration, an agency of the Federal Government, held a meeting without any public notice and from which the press was barred.  And while the office’s mission is supposed to be to provide “an independent voice for small business within the federal government,” many if not most of the attendees were from large companies and the trade associations and Washington lobbyists that represent their interests.

This meeting was the latest in a long and continuing series of so-called “environmental roundtables” that serve as a basis for the SBA’s Advocacy Office to weigh in against environmental or workplace regulations that big business opposes.   

There are no records from these meetings that are made publicly available.  Agendas and attendee lists are not disclosed, though I was able to obtain an agenda for this particular meeting at the last minute.  I noted with interest that the first half of the meeting focused on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, which provides health assessments of chemicals used by public health and environmental officials around the world. 

The key draw in this meeting:  a senior official from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), whose dominant members are huge global chemical companies like ExxonMobil, BASF, Dow and DuPont – in short, Big Chem.   The ACC official spent a full hour coaching representatives of Big Chem and other global mining companies and automobile corporations like GM in how to pick apart and challenge recent documents developed by the IRIS program.  IRIS has become a focal point of the chemical industry’s multi-front attack on independent government science.  Here is the deck of Powerpoint slides used by the ACC representative and the other industry speaker.  Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

6 years in the making: A new and improved snapshot of U.S. chemical manufacture

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.   Alissa Sasso is a Chemicals Policy Fellow.

Well, it’s finally hit the street:  Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released information on the manufacture and use of nearly 7,700 industrial chemicals in 2011.  The data were collected last year under a revamped Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) program, and is the first update of such information since way back in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina and Star Wars Episode III.

In releasing the data, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson noted:  “The CDR data also highlight the clear need for TSCA reform. Updating this critical law will ensure that EPA has access to the tools and resources it needs to quickly and effectively assess potentially harmful chemicals, and safeguard the health of families across the country.”

Getting even to this point has been a long and bumpy road.  Just getting from the proposed to a final CDR rule took over 16 months, with EPA having to endure not one but two nearly six-month regulatory reviews by the Office of Management and Budget and the chemical industry’s efforts to delay and dilute the rule.  It then took another year for EPA to collect the data, in no small part thanks to repeated efforts by the chemical industry and its allies in Congress to further delay the program.

Finally, it’s taken EPA six more months to compile and process the data in preparation for today’s release – though that’s a decided improvement over the 21 months it took EPA to release the data collected in the last cycle (the faster pace due in part to a requirement this time around for electronic reporting, a feature the chemical industry and its Congressional allies opposed).

So what do the new data reveal?  EPA has provided some nice summary materials, which we won’t duplicate here.  See especially the table on this page.  We’ll have more to say on this as we further analyze the data, but here are a few important things to note:

  • While 7,674 chemicals were publicly reported, these are limited to those being produced in or imported into the US in 2011 at volumes above the reporting threshold of 25,000 pounds per year per site.
    • The count excludes the likely much larger number of chemicals produced or imported at volumes below the reporting threshold, as well as the many chemicals exempt from reporting, such as most polymers.
  • Nearly 33,000 “records” have been made available by EPA.  Each record represents a single chemical reported by a single site of a company producing or importing that chemical.
    • In contrast to EPA’s reporting in the last cycle, a record for every single chemical-single site combination has been provided even if the information provided in the record is confidential business information (CBI).  In this way, the extent and nature of CBI claims is far clearer than was the case in the last cycle.
  • Extent of CBI claims:  Of all of the reported elements in these records that could potentially have been claimed CBI, about 16% were so claimed.  But that percentage varied a lot among the elements.
    • For 624 records (about 2%), the chemical identity was not provided and instead replaced with a unique identifier called an accession number.  These are new chemicals that are listed on the confidential portion of the TSCA Inventory, which are the only chemicals for which EPA allows chemical identity to be claimed CBI.
    • For 3,420 records (10.4%), the company claimed its identity to be CBI.
    • For 9,686 records (29.4%), the company claimed its domestically manufactured production volume to be CBI.
    • For 10,351 records (31.5%), the company claimed its exported volume to be CBI.

More to come, so stay tuned!

Also posted in Regulation | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

EDF comments at EPA's public stakeholder meeting on its IRIS Program

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

I provide in this post the comments I delivered as a panelist at the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) November 13, 2012 Public Stakeholder Meeting on its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program.  EPA describes IRIS as "a human health assessment program that evaluates information on health effects that may result from exposure to environmental contaminants."

 

The theme of my comments today is the critical need to restore balance to the IRIS program.  In my view, the program’s structure and practice have over time tilted badly toward allowing one set of interests and desirable attributes of chemical assessments to wholly dominate over another, equally critical set.  Let me explain.  Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Health Science | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Doing its best under a flawed law: 35 groups file comments supporting EPA efforts to reduce exposure to toxic flame retardants

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist. Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Today Environmental Defense Fund and Earthjustice, joined by 33 other health and environmental groups, filed comments that urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to swiftly move forward with two proposed actions to regulate a group of toxic flame retardants called PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers). 

The first proposed rule would require anyone intending to begin production, processing or import of any PBDE, or a product containing one, to notify EPA before doing so.  This would give the agency an opportunity to evaluate the risks of the proposed activity and if necessary take action to restrict or prohibit it.  The second proposed rule would require anyone who continues after 2013 to produce, process or import any PBDE, or a product containing one, to conduct extensive tests needed to allow EPA to determine the risks posed by those ongoing activities.   Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Regulation | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Striking the right balance between right to know and right to intellectual property protection

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

There is clearly a need to balance the legitimate claims of companies to protect certain confidential business information (CBI) from public disclosure with the legitimate need for the market, consumers and the public to have access to information they need to make sound decisions about chemicals that are in commerce.  Unfortunately, most of TSCA’s provisions and their implementation by EPA have skewed this balance radically in the direction of denying the public’s right to know and creating an ill-informed chemicals marketplace.

The core problem is two-fold, constituting a vicious circle:  Too many CBI claims are made, and each of the infrequent examinations of such claims done by EPA has found a large fraction to be illegitimate, i.e., not meeting the well-established criteria for what constitutes a legitimate trade secret.  And because of the large number of claims made, EPA has lost the ability to review claims to ensure they are in fact legitimate and remain so over time; this lack of review has led directly to more claims being made, thereby completing the vicious circle.  Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Regulation, TSCA Reform | Tagged , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed
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