EDF Health

Not goodbye, but see you later

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

After nearly 35 years at EDF, I am retiring this week.

While I have had the privilege of working on many things in my time at EDF, for the last 20+ years my main focus has been on the Toxic Substances Control Act: making the case for why reform was so badly needed; helping shape what that reform should look like; traversing every twist and turn on the long and winding road to get the Lautenberg Act finally enacted; and providing EPA with our advice on how to get strong and lawful implementation of the law off the ground.

I don’t know that any of us who worked so hard on all of the above imagined what a tragic turn all of that work would take with the arrival of the Trump administration.  They simply handed over the keys to the chemical industry and its bevy of law firms, trade associations, and consultants, who quickly shattered the fragile consensus and good will that had allowed the reform to happen, and then systematically undermined the intent of the law in a manner that actually made many things worse than before.  EDF’s and my role necessarily shifted to one of vociferous opposition, documenting and challenging how EPA political appointees were thwarting the law, science, and the agency’s mission to protect health and the environment, including those at greatest risk.

Considerable damage was done to EPA, including to its most valuable resource, the career staff.  Considerable time will be needed to right the ship.  I am hopeful about the corrective actions that have already been taken by new EPA leadership and what they are signaling is still to come.

It is vital not only that the damage be fixed, but also that EPA work to realize a broader vision for what TSCA can be and must do to fully account for and protect those most exposed or susceptible to chemical risks – including fenceline communities, workers, and children.  Earlier this year we published a series of posts to this blog titled “Re-visioning TSCA” that lays out some of our thinking about why and how this work should begin immediately.

Enormous tasks lie ahead.  EDF has had and will continue to have a strong team working on TSCA, and we will shortly be announcing a new member who will lead this work.

I plan to take a break and return at a later point to continue to advise our team on this important work.

Finally, a note about the EDF Health blog:  Our program started it in February 2008 to be able to weigh in and talk about our work back then to ensure the safety of nanomaterials.  Some 820 posts later, we now regularly address a range of issues we work on relating to chemicals and health.  We also strive to do more than just opine on the issues – often using the blog to present the results of our research and analysis of problems and detailed recommendations for how they should be tackled.

I was startled to see that, over these years, I have contributed about 475 posts, more than 350 of them directly focused on TSCA.  That is a lot of words, but I hope they can still serve as a resource, and a window into what we believe can and needs to be done to protect everyone from toxic chemicals.

For now, I’ll just say, not goodbye, but see you later.

Also posted in Health Policy, Public Health, TSCA Reform, Worker Safety / Read 5 Responses

Loosening industry’s grip on EPA’s new chemicals program

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

[I delivered a shorter version of these comments at the September 22, 2021 webinar titled “Hair on Fire and Yes Packages! How the Biden Administration Can Reverse the Chemical Industry’s Undue Influence,” cosponsored by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), NH Safe Water Alliance, and EDF.  A recording of the webinar will shortly be available here.  The webinar, second in a series, follows on EPA whistleblower disclosures first appearing in a complaint filed by PEER that are detailed in a series of articles by Sharon Lerner in The Intercept.]

The insularity of the New Chemicals Program – where staff only interact with industry and there is no real engagement with other stakeholders – spawns and perpetuates these industry-friendly and un-health-protective policies.

I have closely tracked the Environmental Protection Agency’s New Chemicals Program for many years.  Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that the program does not serve the agency’s mission and the public interest, but rather the interests of the chemical industry.  Despite the major reforms Congress made to the program in 2016 when it overhauled the Toxic Substances Control Act, the New Chemicals Program is so badly broken that nothing less than a total reset can fix the problems.

Revelations emerging through responses Environmental Defense Fund finally received to a FOIA request we made two years ago, and through the disclosures of courageous whistleblowers who did or still work in the New Chemicals Program, confirm what I have long suspected, looking in from the outside.  The program:

  • uses practices that allow the chemical industry to easily access and hold sway over EPA reviews and decisions on the chemicals they seek to bring to market;
  • has developed a deeply embedded culture of secrecy that blocks public scrutiny and accountability;
  • employs policies – often unwritten – that undermine Congress’ major reforms to the law and reflect only industry viewpoints; and
  • operates through a management system and managers, some still in place, that regularly prioritize industry’s demands for quick decisions that allow their new chemicals onto the market with no restrictions, over reliance on the best science and protection of public and worker health.

Many of the worst abuses coming to light took place during the Trump administration, and it is tempting to believe the change in administrations has fixed the problems.  It has not.  The damaging practices, culture, policies and management systems predate the last administration and laid the foundation for the abuses.  Highly problematic decisions continue to be made even in recent weeks.

I am encouraged by recent statements and actions of Dr. Michal Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator of the EPA office that oversees TSCA implementation.  They clearly are moves in the right direction.  But it is essential that the deep-rooted, systemic nature of the problem be forthrightly acknowledged and forcefully addressed.

Let me provide some examples of each of the problems I just noted.  Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence, PFAS, Public Health, Regulation, TSCA Reform, Worker Safety / Tagged , | Comments are closed

State legislation requires replacement of ¼ of the country’s lead pipes

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

With the recent passage of excellent legislation in Illinois and New Jersey, one out of every four of the nation’s lead service lines (LSLs) is on a mandatory schedule to be fully replaced, with strict limits on partial replacement in the interim. These states now join Michigan in leading the way on replacing lead pipes– made all the more important because they have some of the highest numbers of LSLs in the country.

Both the Illinois and New Jersey laws[1] were the result of extensive negotiations between stakeholders and were passed with broad bipartisan support. We applaud the bill sponsors and the advocacy organizations that made it happen.

The most significant difference between the three state policies is their deadlines for utilities to fully replace the LSLs:

  • Illinois: range of 15 years to 50 years depending on a given utility’s number of LSLs.
  • New Jersey: 10-year deadline with an option to extend to 15 years
  • Michigan: 20-year deadline.

Read More »

Also posted in Drinking Water, lead, Regulation, States / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Finally—EPA takes steps to unify its approach to the evaluation of chemicals for cancer and non-cancer endpoints

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist, and Lariah Edwards, Ph.D., is an EDF-George Washington University Postdoctoral Fellow

A recent article in Inside EPA ($) indicated that the US EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) will begin piloting a “unified approach” to the evaluation of chemicals for cancer and non-cancer endpoints. Specifically, it appears that the program intends to develop analyses demonstrating how a unified approach could work as supplements to some of its chemical assessments. This represents a major step forward in advancing the science of chemical assessment at EPA and is responsive to recommendations the scientific community and stakeholders have been making for years.

By way of background, chemical regulatory assessments generally assume that if a chemical is a genotoxic carcinogen, there is no exposure threshold for the effect. This means that across a diverse population, some level of risk for developing cancer exists at any level of exposure. Traditionally for all other toxicity endpoints, EPA and other regulatory agencies typically have assumed that there is a bright-line exposure threshold below which no adverse health effect will be seen.

This bifurcated approach to characterizing chemical hazards and risks is not scientifically supported. The assumption that there are “safe” exposure thresholds for all non-cancer endpoints ignores real-world variability in exposure and susceptibility across the human population.  This variability influences whether any particular person or group will experience an adverse effect, and includes such factors as: co-exposures to other chemical and non-chemical stressors and differences in susceptibility that may arise from things like genetic differences or underlying health conditions.

Read More »

Also posted in States / Tagged | Comments are closed

Beyond paper: PFAS linked to common plastic packaging used for food, cosmetics, and much more

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director, Maricel Maffini, consultant, and Tom Bruton with Green Science Policy Institute. 

Update August 11, 21 – Added FDA’s Response to FOIA.

Results from an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation into PFAS-contaminated pesticides have much broader, concerning implications for food, cosmetics, shampoos, household cleaning products, and other consumer products, as well as recycling. This investigation, first announced earlier this year, found that fluorinated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) containers used for pesticide storage contained a mix of short and long-chain per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), including PFOA, that leached into the product. From what EPA can tell, the PFAS were not intentionally added to the HDPE containers but are hypothesized to have been produced when fluorine gas was applied to the plastic.

Since EPA released its investigation, we have learned the disturbing fact that the fluorination of plastic is commonly used to treat hundreds of millions of polyethylene and polypropylene containers each year ranging from packaged food and consumer products that individuals buy to larger containers used by retailers such as restaurants to even larger drums used by manufacturers to store and transport fluids.

The process of polyethylene fluorination was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1983 for food packaging to reduce oxygen and moisture migration through the plastic that would cause foods to spoil. The fluorination process forms a barrier on the plastic’s surface and it also strengthens the packaging.

Fluorination of plastic leading to the inadvertent creation of PFAS may be another reason these ‘forever chemicals’ show up in many unexpected places. This significant source of PFAS contamination needs to be addressed. Much remains to be resolved as FDA and EPA actively investigate this new source of PFAS; however, preventive steps need to be taken quickly, especially since other PFAS-free barrier materials are available as alternatives.

Growing evidence links PFAS to a wide range of serious health effects – from developmental problems to cancer.

Read More »

Also posted in FDA, Health Science, PFAS, Regulation / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Getting chemical safety back on track 5 years after TSCA reform

Five years ago, President Obama signed into law the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which overhauled the country’s chemical safety law to better protect people from toxic chemicals.

In a welcome change to the dismal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform anniversaries during the Trump administration, this year we are able to highlight some signs of progress we have seen from the Biden EPA that are getting chemical safety back on track.

Though significant challenges remain and lots of work lies ahead to repair the damage done by the former administration and advance a broader vision of health protection for everyone, here are five ways the Biden administration has started to turn things around on chemical safety:

1. Naming leaders committed to scientific integrity and public health protection

With Michael Regan at the helm of EPA, the agency is already miles ahead of where it stood in the last administration. The critical position for overseeing TSCA implementation at EPA is the leader of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Fortunately, a chemist with deep experience on TSCA and other chemical issues from her time on Capitol Hill, Dr. Michal Freedhoff, has been confirmed for the role.

Both Regan and Freedhoff have made strong statements supporting a return to scientific integrity and transparency – which are critical needs to building back trust. Dr. Freedhoff specifically cited how the Trump White House forced EPA scientists to weaken their assessment of the dangerous chemical trichloroethylene, an egregious example of political interference in science-based decision-making.

Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Public Health, Regulation, TSCA Reform / Tagged | Comments are closed