EDF Health

PART 3: Busting more industry-perpetrated myths about new chemicals and worker protection under TSCA

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

Part 1          Part 2         Part 3

I have been blogging in the last few weeks about myths the chemical industry is perpetrating about the adequacy and legality of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent reviews of the risks that chemicals just entering the market may present to workers.  In this post, I address another such myth that, unfortunately, EPA has swallowed hook, line, and sinker.  This myth was laid out by one of the industry witnesses at the March 13 House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on EPA’s failures to protect workers from chemical risks.

One wonders when EPA will start doing what Congress told it to do, first in 1976 and then again, with renewed vigor in 2016:  Protect workers under TSCA – using TSCA’s authorities to meet TSCA’s health standard, not OSHA’s.

I’ll get to this third myth in a moment.  But let me first try to crystallize what is at stake in this debate.  While the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has always given EPA authority to regulate workplace risks, the 2016 amendments to TSCA strengthened EPA’s authority and mandate to protect workers.  TSCA now expressly identifies workers as a “potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulation.”  See the definition of that term in paragraph 12 here.  TSCA then requires EPA to identify and assess potential risks to such subpopulations when reviewing both new and existing chemicals.  Finally, it requires EPA to use its TSCA authorities to impose restrictions on any chemical found to present an “unreasonable risk” – which is TSCA’s health standard – to any such subpopulation.

In a word, TSCA requires EPA to protect workers under TSCA – using TSCA’s authorities to meet TSCA’s health standard, not OSHA’s.

Both before and after the 2016 TSCA amendments, the chemical industry has sought to compel or convince EPA not to regulate workplaces under TSCA, and instead to defer to OSHA.  Industry wants this because OSHA’s authority and capacity are severely limited and its legal requirements for regulating toxic substances (“health standards” in OSHA parlance) allow vastly greater risks to workers than do TSCA’s (see my previous post).

Sadly, under the Trump EPA, industry is getting its wish.  At industry’s urging, EPA is acting in a manner that is wholly contrary to TSCA – and is less health-protective than even under TSCA before the 2016 reforms.

Now let’s get back to more myth-busting.   Read More »

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EPA’s Naming of Formaldehyde as a Candidate for High Priority Under TSCA Raises Serious Concerns

Statement of Dr. Richard Denison, Lead Senior Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund 

EPA’s statement today regarding its inclusion of formaldehyde on the list of chemicals under consideration for prioritization for risk evaluation under TSCA leaves many questions unanswered.

EPA states that ‘the work done for IRIS will inform the TSCA process.’ Such consideration is already required by law.

What is absolutely essential is that the IRIS program be able to complete its assessment of formaldehyde, which has been suppressed for the last year and a half by conflicted EPA political appointees.  Then EPA’s TSCA office, just like every other EPA office, can and should rely on it to make regulatory decisions.

It’s time that political interference in the agency’s science stop.”

For more information see the following EDF blog post: The Trump EPA’s actions on formaldehyde can be summed up in one word: Corrupt.

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Long-Delayed Methylene Chloride Ban Finalized but Still Leaves Workers at Risk

Increasing pressure from families, lawmakers, and advocates forces EPA’s half-step on deadly chemical

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it has finalized a rule that bans methylene chloride in paint strippers for consumer uses but still allows use of the deadly products in workplaces. Instead of banning commercial uses, as it originally proposed to do more than two years ago, EPA is merely starting a process to gather input on what a possible future certification and training program might look like – delaying any action for years.   Read More »

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PART 1: Busting industry-perpetrated myths about new chemicals and worker protection under TSCA

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

Part 1          Part 2         Part 3

This week the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing on EPA’s failures to protect workers from chemical risks.  It featured a number of compelling testimonies from worker representatives:  auto workers, firefighters, teachers, and farmworkers.  It also featured testimony from a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) official, who made the case for why it is so critical that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comply with the mandates and use the enhanced authorities Congress gave the agency under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to protect workers exposed to chemicals.  He detailed why OSHA is unable to do so, describing OSHA as “outmatched” and having “exhausted its capacity” in the face of decades of severe budget cuts and limited legal authority.

The chemical industry is perpetuating damaging myths about worker protection at EPA and OSHA, which have unfortunately taken a firm hold in the Trump EPA.

Unfortunately, the hearing also included testimonies from two chemical industry representatives who painted a highly deceptive picture of what EPA has done to protect workers under the new TSCA and the adequacy of OSHA regulations regarding chemical risks in the workplace and the extent of compliance with them.  This and future posts will address the damaging myths these witnesses are perpetuating, which have unfortunately taken a firm hold in the Trump EPA.

Myth #1:  EPA is committed to protecting workers when reviewing new chemicals under TSCA.   Read More »

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The Trump EPA is throwing workers facing risks from new TSCA chemicals under the bus

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

[For more on this topic, see our recent 3-part myth-busting series:
Part 1          Part 2         Part 3]

We have blogged before (see here and here) about the steps initiated in mid-2018 by the Trump EPA to weaken new chemical reviews under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – rendering them even less health-protective than under TSCA prior to the 2016 reforms enacted in the Lautenberg Act.

As these debilitating policy changes – still never publicly described or released, and apparently still not written down even for use within EPA – have taken hold, we have seen dozens of flawed new chemical decisions emerge.  We blogged extensively about the first such decision made under the new regimen in late July 2018.  Since then, about 60 more final determinations reflecting the new policies have been posted on EPA’s website.  These decisions pertain mostly to premanufacture notifications (PMNs), along with a few for significant new use notices (SNUNs).  At least 80% of these chemicals were cleared to enter commerce without being subject to any conditions whatsoever.  EPA accomplished this by issuing a final determination that each cleared chemical, or significant new use of a chemical, is “not likely to present an unreasonable risk.”  For these determinations, EPA is required under TSCA to post a statement of its finding, which it does in another table on its website.

We have been closely examining these “not likely” determination documents.  Some deeply disturbing patterns are emerging.  This post will describe one of them.

A new addition to the long and growing list of illegal actions EPA has taken to render the new chemicals program weaker than under the old TSCA.

Most striking is that for a significant majority of these chemicals, EPA either identified significant risks to workers or indicated it had insufficient information to determine the level of risk to workers.  Under the 2016 reforms to TSCA, either finding – that there are or may be risks or that there is insufficient information to determine the level of risk – requires EPA to issue an order specifying conditions sufficient to eliminate the risk.  Yet EPA did no such thing; instead, it cleared the chemicals for unfettered market access.   Read More »

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The Trump EPA’s actions on formaldehyde can be summed up in one word: Corrupt

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

Today, Heidi Vogt at the Wall Street Journal reported on the systematic efforts by the Trump Administration to derail chemical assessments under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS).   

Decisions are being made as I write by conflicted EPA political appointees, not only to derail the beleaguered IRIS assessment for the carcinogen formaldehyde, but to transfer any further assessment of the chemical to be under the control of those same political appointees.

The WSJ article cites an upcoming report by Congress’ Government Accountability Office (GAO) that notes “EPA leadership in October directed the heads of the agency’s various programs to limit the number of chemicals they wanted IRIS to study or continue researching.  Nine of 16 assessments were then dropped, including one that looked at whether exposure to formaldehyde increases the risk of leukemia that ‘has been drafted and is ready to be released for public comment.’ ”  The chemical industry has long sought to undermine the findings of numerous governmental authorities that have identified the dangers posed by formaldehyde, one of the industry’s biggest cash cows.

IRIS itself has also long been a target of the chemical and allied industries, including those well represented by EPA political appointees who are now able to drive the assault on IRIS from inside the agency.

This post will provide more of the backstory to the WSJ’s excellent reporting.  It reveals additional decisions being made as I write by conflicted political appointees, not only to derail the beleaguered IRIS assessment for formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, but to transfer any further assessment of the chemical to be under the control of those same political appointees.  What is happening here we believe is ripe for further investigation.   Read More »

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