EDF Health

A closer look at the environmental justice implications of EPA’s proposed lead in water rule

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

See all blogs in our LCR series.

Household-level changes that depend on ability-to-pay will leave low-income households with disproportionately higher health risks.

 

EPA Environmental Justice Analysis of the proposed rule.

Reviewing a rulemaking docket can be intimidating, especially for a major rule like the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), which includes 853 supporting documents and tens of thousands of pages. Though we cannot claim to have read all of the documents, we did a targeted scan of key materials, knowing that they often yield insights and results that are lost in the summary that appears in the Federal Register. 

The effort for us paid off when we read EPA’s Environmental Justice (EJ) Analysis of the LCR proposal revisions (the Proposal), commissioned in response to Executive Order 12898. The Order directs agencies to identify and address, “as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations” in rulemaking. The agency’s contractor essentially found:

  • The current LCR disproportionately impacts low-income and minority populations as they are more likely to live in older housing that has lead service lines (LSLs), the most significant source of lead in drinking water.
  • The Proposal’s corrosion control requirements should help reduce current disparities. Because water treatment is consistent across an entire community, stronger requirements that reduce the ability of lead to leach into water from LSLs, leaded solder, and other sources should mitigate, but not eliminate, the disproportionate burden in homes with LSLs.
  • The Proposal may make disparities worse if it depends on individual household’s ability to pay for LSL replacement (LSLR). The report stated that “Household-level changes that depend on ability-to-pay will leave low-income households with disproportionately higher health risks.”[1]

In the Federal Register notice, EPA glossed over the third point and concluded that the Proposal is “not expected to have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations and low-income populations.”[2] The agency ignores the fact that the Proposal makes no change to the current LCR provisions that rely on a household’s ability to pay when it says water systems are “not required to bear the cost of removal of the portion of the [LSL] it does not own.”[3] We are aware of only a small – but growing – number of communities that have funding options to assist households with the cost of LSLR on private property.

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Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Health Policy, lead, Regulation / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

The Trump EPA reaches a shocking new low in failing to protect workers under TSCA

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

Just when I thought EPA putting workers’ health at risk by shirking its responsibilities under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) couldn’t get any worse, it has.

The notion that worker protection can or should be relegated to the equivalent of a shock avoidance experiment is deeply offensive if not outright immoral.

In its risk evaluations of existing chemicals (see our comments here and here) and its reviews of  new chemicals (see our comments here) entering the market, EPA has found ways bordering on the diabolical to avoid identifying or to understate the extent and nature of risks to workers making or using those chemicals.  The agency:

  • Simply assumes without evidence that workers will wear fully effective personal protective equipment (respirators and gloves).
  • Distorts OSHA regulations and claims they apply where they don’t.
  • Treats voluntary instruments that impose no binding requirements as if they were mandatory.
  • Assumes that if the average worker’s exposure does not exceed its acceptable risk level, then it doesn’t matter if there are exceedances for those workers most highly exposed.
  • Has unquestioningly accepted and used manufacturers’ undocumented data on workplace exposure levels even when data from more authoritative sources show far higher exposures.
  • And has adopted a cancer risk benchmark that is as much as two orders of magnitude more permissive of risk than warranted under TSCA.

All this despite TSCA’s express identification of workers as a “potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulation” that warrants special protection.

As appalling as all of this is, it just got worse. Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, TSCA Reform / Tagged | Comments are closed

EPA still has a very long way to go on transparency under TSCA

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

EPA recently held a public meeting where it unveiled its first set of confidential business information (CBI) claim “determinations.”  These came three and half years after updates to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) required EPA to review CBI claims and publicly state the basis for its decision to approve or deny each claim.  EPA also recently finally started assigning “unique identifiers” to chemicals where it approves a claim to hide the chemical’s identity from the public.  These identifiers also come very late, having been called for starting immediately under the 2016 reforms to TSCA.

EPA also recently began posting to its ChemView database premanufacturing notices (PMNs) it receives on new chemicals, as well as some of the documents it generates when reviewing new chemicals (though these are exceedingly hard to find).

These and a few other modest recent improvements are certainly better late than never.  Their slowness in arriving, however, is a stark illustration of the far greater priority the Trump EPA has given to favoring the chemical industry’s interests over the public interest.

Moreover, EDF’s examination of these recent measures reveals both how far behind EPA still is in meeting TSCA’s mandates to provide chemical information to the public, and that EPA is failing to comply with a number of those mandates.

Last Friday EDF filed comments with EPA detailing both the shortcomings in what EPA has done and what it has failed to do.  We also provided a host of recommendations for improvements to the EPA websites and databases that are critical if they are to meet the public’s right to know about chemicals and EPA’s review of them under TSCA.  This post will summarize some of the key findings detailed in our comments.  Here is a list of topics covered in our comments and, more briefly, in this post:

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What connects cross country skiing and chemical safety?

Sam Lovell, Project Manager.

An idyllic afternoon gliding through fresh snow may seem as far removed as you can get from Washington, D.C. decision-making about toxic chemicals. However, as recently reported by Outside Magazine, there’s an intriguing connection here that ought to give skiers, and the rest of us, some pause.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a new chemical for use in ski wax. Just a few months before, the agency had planned to deny the chemical market entry based on the concern, among others, that exposure could “waterproof the lungs” – causing severe, acute harm. Due to the abrupt reversal in EPA’s decision, EDF began looking further into this case and made public records and Freedom of Information Act requests.

The intervening steps that resulted in this chemical getting the green light to market reveal serious problems in EPA’s new chemicals program regarding transparency and industry influence.

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Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, PFAS, TSCA Reform / Tagged , | Comments are closed

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.

Update: On February 5, 2020, we submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its proposal. 

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 »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, lead, Regulation, States / Tagged , , , , , | Comments are closed

When it comes to testing heavy metals in food, the result is only as good as the lab.

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director and Boma Brown-West, Senior Manager.

“Even though the levels of a metal in any particular food is low, our overall
exposure adds up because many of the foods we eat contain them in small amounts.”

 

Dr. Conrad Choiniere, leader of FDA’s Toxic Elements Workgroup on April 20, 2018

Heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead are present in most foods, whether conventional or organic, usually as the result of environmental contamination. Because heavy metals pose significant threats even at low levels, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made reducing cumulative exposure a priority. The Baby Food Council – consisting of Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Happy Family Organics, Earth’s Best, and Gerber Products Company and supported by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), Cornell University and EDF – shares this goal and seeks to reduce heavy metals in the companies’ products to as low as reasonably achievable using best-in-class management practices.

Through the Council, EDF is coordinating a proficiency testing program to enable retailers, food manufacturers, ingredient suppliers, and others to identify laboratories that are capable of measuring arsenic, cadmium, and lead at levels in the low parts per billion (ppb). The Council has arranged for FAPAS, a leading proficiency testing provider for the food and water testing industries, to manage the testing program.

Read More »

Posted in FDA, Food, Health Science, lead / Tagged , , , , , | Comments are closed