EDF Health

Selected tag(s): New chemicals

Trump EPA caves again to industry demands on new chemicals, and workers pay the price

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

Isocyanates are nasty chemicals, including when they are left over as residuals after manufacturing other chemicals.  Here are the kinds of risks they pose, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):

Isocyanates are powerful irritants to the mucous membranes of the eyes and gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts.  Direct skin contact can also cause marked inflammation.  Isocyanates can also sensitize workers, making them subject to severe asthma attacks if they are exposed again. There is evidence that both respiratory and dermal exposures can lead to sensitization.  Death from severe asthma in some sensitized subjects has been reported.

In prior reviews of new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA has repeatedly indicated that “[i]socyanate exposure has been identified as the leading attributable cause of work-related asthma, and prevalence in the exposed workforce has been estimated at 1-20 percent.”

Both NIOSH and EPA have raised even greater concern over activities involving spray application of chemicals containing isocyanates.  In 2006, NIOSH issued a rare alert calling for workers to undergo medical surveillance and wear high-efficiency respirators and gloves when engaged in such activities.

Even in the recent past, when reviewing new chemicals containing isocyanate residuals, EPA has typically (1) issued a consent order subjecting the company submitting the chemical for review to multiple conditions in order to limit workplace inhalation exposures to the residuals, and (2) followed up with a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) that extends those conditions to other companies, requiring them to notify EPA prior to engaging in any activity that exceeds those workplace limits.  And the only case since TSCA was amended in 2016 where EPA found a new chemical “presents an unreasonable risk” – as opposed to the more common, lower-bar finding that it “may present an unreasonable risk” – involved residual isocyanates present after manufacture of two new chemicals.

In such cases EPA has imposed some combination of three types of conditions on manufacture of such chemicals:  prohibitions on activities that could generate inhalable forms of the chemical and result in inhalation exposures; strict requirements for the use of high-efficiency respirators and gloves; and a strict limit on the amount of isocyanate residuals allowed to be present in the new chemical, typically in the range of 0.1% to 0.2%.

So it is quite disturbing to see how EPA has dealt with the most recent such new chemical for which EPA has issued its final decision – which requires that companies employ NONE of these protections.  Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, Regulation, TSCA Reform, Worker Safety / Also tagged , | Comments are closed

The Trump EPA is illegally denying requests for public files on new chemicals

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

For some time now, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been requesting “public files” of new chemical notices the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) receives under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  The process is kludge-y to say the least.  We have to email our request to EPA’s Docket Center, and, typically, several weeks later the staff there copy the files that staff in the TSCA office have given them in response to our request onto a CD-ROM and snail-mail it to us.

This, despite the fact that EPA’s own regulations (see here and here) state unequivocally that EPA is to promptly make new chemicals’ premanufacture notifications (PMNs) and associated documents broadly available to the general public by posting them to electronic dockets.  One regulation states: “All information submitted with a notice, including any health and safety study and other supporting documentation, will become part of the public file for that notice, unless such materials are claimed confidential.”  The other regulation states that public files are to be made available in the electronic docket posted at http://www.regulations.gov.

We have blogged extensively about how, even once we receive the public files, they are rife with wholesale omissions, illegal redactions and myriad other problems.

After two years of our repeated requests to EPA to comply with its own regulations, it appears EPA may be taking a first step to try do so:  EPA recently announced (via email, but not anywhere on its website that we can find) that it will start posting PMNs and associated documents it receives in the future to its ChemView database, within 45 days of their receipt.  While this could be a welcome development, it does nothing to remedy EPA’s failure to provide access to the thousands of PMNs it has received in the past.  And it remains to be seen what EPA actually will and won’t be posting.

We’ll be watching closely to see when and what EPA actually makes available.  Part of the need for vigilance comes from a disturbing response we’ve been receiving from EPA’s Docket Center to some recent requests for new chemical public files:   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform / Also tagged | Comments are closed

Company safety data sheets on new chemicals frequently lack the worker protections EPA claims they include

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

Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA’s approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere “expectation” that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer’s non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).

How much farther under the bus will the Trump EPA throw American workers?

The typical course has been for EPA to identify risks to workers from a new chemical it is reviewing under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), but then – instead of issuing an order imposing binding conditions on the chemical’s entry onto the market, as TSCA requires – to find that the chemical is “not likely to present an unreasonable risk” and impose no conditions whatsoever on its manufacturer.  This sleight of hand is pulled off by EPA stating that it:

expects employers will require and workers will use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) … consistent with the Safety Data Sheet prepared by the new chemical submitter, in a manner adequate to protect them.

We have detailed earlier the myriad ways in which this approach strays from the law, is bad policy and won’t protect workers.  But here’s yet another gaping problem:  When we are able to look at the actual SDSs – that is, when EPA has made them available and when they are not totally redacted – we are frequently finding that the specific PPE that EPA claims to be specified in the SDSs – and that EPA asserts is sufficient to protect all workers handling the chemical – is not in the SDSs.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, Regulation, TSCA Reform, Worker Safety / Tagged | Read 1 Response

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 »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, Regulation, TSCA Reform, Uncategorized, Worker Safety / Also tagged , , | Comments are closed

PART 2: 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

This post shows why the chemical industry has been so anxious to convince EPA to defer to OSHA rather than regulate worker risks from new chemicals under TSCA.

I started blogging last week about myths the chemical industry is perpetrating when it comes to EPA’s review of the risks new chemicals may present to workers.  In this post, I address another such myth, one that the industry promotes to argue why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can and should defer to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in addressing the risks posed by new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  This myth was on full display at last week’s House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on EPA’s failures to protect workers from chemical risks.

Myth #2:  OSHA regulations provide ample protection of workers from any exposures to new chemicals EPA is reviewing under TSCA.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, Regulation, Worker Safety / Also tagged , | Comments are closed

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 »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, Regulation, TSCA Reform, Worker Safety / Also tagged , , | Comments are closed