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When will EPA fully explain and legally justify its reviews of new chemicals under TSCA?

Stephanie Schwarz, J.D., is a Legal Fellow.  Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Over two years have passed since EPA published its first, highly controversial New Chemicals Decision-Making Framework.  This document attempted to lay out major changes EPA was making, in response to relentless industry pressure, to its reviews of new chemicals entering the market.  Prior to this, EPA had been conducting reviews that largely conformed to the new requirements for these reviews that Congress included in the reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) enacted in June 2016.

Among the many concerning aspects of EPA’s new approach were its herculean efforts to avoid finding a new chemical “may present an unreasonable risk” or that the information available to EPA is insufficient to permit a reasoned evaluation of the chemical.  Under reformed TSCA, either of those findings requires EPA to issue an order – as specified under section 5(e) of TSCA – that restricts the chemical, requires testing, or both in a manner sufficient to ameliorate the potential risk.

One of EPA’s new tactics was to illegally bifurcate its review of a company’s “intended” uses of the new chemical from other “reasonably foreseen” uses.  The company would get the coveted unfettered approval to enter commerce, based on an EPA review limited to its intended uses; these approvals take the form of EPA issuing a finding that the chemical is “not likely to present an unreasonable risk.”  Any review of other reasonably foreseen uses would be relegated (if it took place at all) to a later, wholly separate process that would only be triggered if EPA also promulgated a so-called “significant new use rule” (SNUR).  Under such a SNUR, a company seeking to engage in a reasonably foreseen use of the chemical EPA identified would be required to first notify EPA, who would then conduct a review of that new, now “intended,” use.

These SNURs are often referred to as “non-5(e) order SNURs” because they do not follow from EPA’s issuance of an order under section 5(e) – indeed, avoiding such orders was the whole point.  We have previously addressed the many problems – legal, policy, and scientific – with this approach; see for example, here and here.  These include:

  • the failure to assess all intended and reasonably foreseen uses of a new chemical at the same time, as required by TSCA and necessary to consider the potential for people to be subject to multiple exposures; and
  • the inability to require testing of the new chemical substance using a SNUR, which can be required through an order.

EPA held a public meeting and took public comment on its 2017 Framework at the time it was published.  But it never responded to the many comments it received criticizing its framework.  And when EPA was sued over its use of the Framework, it dodged the suit by claiming it was not using the Framework (see p. 14 here), leading to the lawsuit being withdrawn.  (Later in this post below we discuss that EPA has in fact been repeatedly using the core feature of the Framework.)

Meanwhile, hundreds of decisions made with no public framework

EPA has never made public any subsequent description of its decision-making approach or justification for it, despite the hundreds of new chemical approvals it has been cranking out ever since.  EPA has also never responded to the numerous public comments it received criticizing its framework.

Frustration over this situation led to a Congressional call for EPA to publish and then take comment on an updated description of its new chemicals review process.  Last January, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler made a commitment to Senator Carper to publish a revised new chemicals framework that would specify: “(i) the statutory and scientific justifications for the approaches described, (ii) the policies and procedures EPA is using/plans to use in its PMN reviews, and (iii) its responses to public comments received,” and to provide opportunity for public comment on the revised framework.

Last month EPA announced that it will hold a “Public Meeting on [the] TSCA New Chemicals Program,” which is to take place tomorrow, December 10.  However, while the agenda includes a speaker who will provide an “overview” of what EPA is now calling its “working approach,” EPA’s announcement indicated it would not release any actual document before the public meeting; instead, it will do so “by the end of the year.”  And while the meeting agenda provides for “public feedback” at the end of the meeting, the lack of any document to respond to will surely limit the ability of the public to provide meaningful input.

Absent such a public document, the rest of this post will provide our best understanding of how EPA has been reviewing new chemicals over the last two years, based on our scrutiny of each such decision.  Read More »

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