EDF Health

NGOs call on EPA to revise the draft scopes for its upcoming risk evaluations to comply with TSCA and its own regulations

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

Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families yesterday told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the 20 draft scope documents the agency released for public comment on April 9 and April 23, 2020, fail to meet TSCA and EPA regulatory requirements.  The groups called on EPA to revise the drafts to include the information that both TSCA and EPA’s Risk Evaluation Rule require be included, and then make the revised draft scopes available for public comment.  Read More »

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Amid COVID-19, the Trump administration sets dangerous air pollution standards. What is at stake for Houstonians?

Ananya Roy, Senior Health Scientist; Rachel Fullmer, Senior Attorney; Jeremy Proville, Director; Grace Tee Lewis, Health Scientist

The Trump administration’s disregard for science has been clear in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s not the only health threat they’re making worse by ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence. For three years the administration has systematically sought to weaken clean air safeguards, endangering all Americans.

We know air pollution causes heart disease, diabetes and lung disease—and that the people suffering from these conditions are at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Independent of the ongoing pandemic, air pollution is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths across America year after year. This underscores the vital importance of pollution protections to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Unfortunately, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has proposed to retain an outdated and inadequate standard for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution despite strong scientific evidence that it must be strengthened to adequately protect human health.

To understand what having this pollution standard means for families living in the Greater Houston area, Harvard University and EDF scientists undertook an analysis of the impacts of PM2.5 exposure across the city. We found that:

  • Exposure to fine particle air pollution in 2015 was responsible for 5,213 premature deaths and over $49 billion in associated economic damages.
  • More than 75% of the health burden was borne by communities exposed to PM2.5 levels below the current standard.
  • Meeting the current standard alone would have prevented 91 deaths of the more than 5,000 premature deaths due to fine particle pollution.

By ignoring the scientific evidence and retaining the current standard, Administrator Wheeler is ignoring the very real health impacts felt by Houstonians and communities across the country from exposure to fine particle pollution.

Read More »

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EPA refuses to extend TCE comment deadline, ignoring requests from Congress, health groups

Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director and Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager. 

Yesterday, in the midst of the COVID-19 national emergency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) closed the comment period on an extremely flawed draft risk evaluation on the toxic chemical, trichloroethylene (TCE).

Due to the many scientific and legal concerns raised by the draft risk evaluation, and its significance for any future regulation of TCE, the draft needs thorough and careful review from experts, the public, and other affected stakeholders. However, EPA refused to delay the deadline for the draft risk evaluation’s comment period, despite the growing hardships and major disruptions resulting from the current COVID-19 crisis.  EPA now seems intent on racing to the finish line with its flawed evaluation, ignoring multiple requests to ensure the document is fully vetted:

  • Congress: In two separate letters from the House and Senate, Members of Congress raised concerns with EPA moving forward with various rulemakings and scientific reviews without sufficient opportunity for expert and public input in light of the pandemic – explicitly referencing the TCE draft risk evaluation as a prime example.
  • Health groups: Health organizations whose staff and members are on the front lines of the pandemic requested that EPA extend the public comment period until after the national emergency is lifted due to severe capacity constraints. EPA did not respond.
  • Impacted communities: In early March, nearly 300 people from communities grappling with TCE contamination asked EPA to hold a public meeting to allow them “to ask questions of the agency and engage in critical dialogue.” EPA denied the request.

Read More »

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Former chemical industry official Beck, now at Trump White House, again interferes to weaken EPA action on dangerous chemicals: This time it’s PFAS

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

It was only in February that Reveal News’ Elizabeth Shogren exposed the Trump White House’s role in dramatically weakening the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) draft risk evaluation for the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), which is linked to fetal heart defects at low doses.  The White House’s 11th-hour intervention, led by former chemical industry official Dr. Nancy Beck, forced EPA to rely on a different health effect that would allow 500 times greater exposures to the ubiquitous toxic chemical.

There was every reason to expect this episode was not a one-off, given Beck’s other actions both while at EPA and once arriving at the White House.  Sure enough, last week Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press exposed another such incident, this time involving a group of chemicals collectively known as “perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances” or PFAS that are showing up as environmental contaminants all over the country.

Beck’s first order of business was to compel her former colleagues at EPA to submit the proposed PFAS rule for White House review, which neither the Obama administration nor the Trump administration up to that point had deemed necessary.

Knickmeyer reported on documents obtained by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, ranking member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, that detail Beck’s largely successful effort to scale back a rule EPA first proposed in 2015.  Called a Significant New Use Rule, or SNUR, it would require companies seeking to import products containing certain PFAS to notify EPA in advance, thereby allowing EPA to determine whether to allow the import and impose needed restrictions.  Sen. Carper made the documents public via a letter he sent to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler calling on EPA to finalize the original rule instead of the watered-down re-proposed rule EPA released for public comment in February.  Read More »

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Peer reviewers of EPA’s TCE report must affirm that the key risk is fetal heart damage

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

Last week, the EPA Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) conducted a virtual peer review meeting for the Agency’s draft risk evaluation of trichloroethylene (TCE). As expected, there was substantial discussion on the appropriateness of EPA’s decision to make risk determinations based on immune endpoints rather than fetal cardiac malformations (FCMs). Unfortunately, the review panel lacked anyone with specific expertise in cardiac development.

During the meeting, many of the peer review panelists signaled an initial inclination toward supporting EPA’s decision to use immune endpoints for risk determinations. However, panel members also noted with serious concern the recent investigations that have uncovered political influence exerted on EPA that led it to base the risk determinations in the draft risk evaluation on immune endpoints instead of FCMs.

Stepping back from the specifics of the discussions last week, it is important to understand the longstanding basis and support for EPA’s reliance on FCMs, the unprecedented nature of EPA’s decision to now move away from it, and the adverse implications of the decision for EPA’s ability to adequately manage the risks of TCE to all relevant subpopulations.

This decision is a major departure from thoroughly peer-reviewed science, fails to protect the most sensitive populations as mandated by TSCA, and deviates dramatically from existing Agency guidance. These concerns, discussed at length in EDF’s comments in the TCE Docket, are briefly summarized below:  Read More »

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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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