Selected tags: risk assessment

Only a 2-month wait, down from 28 years: New EPA risk assessments find paint stripper chemicals pose significant health risks

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

In June, I blogged about the first final risk assessment EPA had issued in 28 years using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), for the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE).  Happily, we only had to wait two months for EPA’s TSCA office to issue final risk assessments for three more chemicals.

One of the three is dichloromethane (DCM), also known as methylene chloride.  DCM is a common ingredient of paint strippers, the use on which EPA’s risk assessment focused.  As with TCE, EPA found DCM-laden paint strippers pose significant health risks to workers, consumers and the general public.  Here’s what EPA said in its press release:

The risk assessment for Dichloromethane (DCM), which is widely used in paint stripping products, indicates health risks to both workers and consumers who use these products, and to bystanders in workplaces and residences where DCM is used.  EPA estimates that more than 230,000 workers nationwide are directly exposed to DCM from DCM-containing paint strippers.

Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Health Science, TSCA Reform| Tagged | Comments closed

EPA releases final risk assessment for TCE: One down, 84,999 to go*

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.  Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

EPA achieved a rather significant milestone today in releasing a final risk assessment for the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE).  This document is for the first of a group of 83 “work plan chemicals” EPA identified in 2012 as needing risk assessments and, where warranted, risk management.

Why do we call it a milestone?  It is the first final risk assessment issued by EPA using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in – wait for it – 28 years.

The last time EPA issued a final risk assessment for a chemical under TSCA was in 1986, for asbestos.  (EPA has developed a few draft assessments under TSCA over the years, but today marks the first time since 1986 that one of them has been finalized.)

So, kudos to EPA for finally getting this risk assessment to the finish line.  Now what’s next?  Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Tagged | Comments closed

Imbalanced act: An EPA IRIS agenda that speaks 1000 words

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.  Rachel Shaffer is a research assistant.

[UPDATE 6/24/14:  Perhaps in response to this post of last week, an updated agenda for this week's IRIS meeting was posted by EPA today that reflects a somewhat more balanced set of speakers.  Industry interests appear to have consolidated their number of slots, down from a high of 8 to a high of 6 per issue, and down from a high of 6 to a high of 4 individuals per issue from the same consulting firm.  In addition, several additional slots are assigned to non-industry speakers.  If you wish to see the changes, here is the agenda we linked to that was current as of last week, and here's the updated agenda posted today.]

In comments EDF made at a November 2012 stakeholder meeting held by EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, we warned that the tendency of the IRIS program to respond to criticism by expanding opportunities for “public” input would serve to increase rather than decrease the imbalance in stakeholder input.

We noted that providing more opportunities for participation not only lengthens the timeline for completing assessments; it also virtually ensures the input received by EPA is imbalanced and badly skewed toward the regulated community. That’s because companies that produce and use each chemical to be assessed – and the trade associations and myriad hired consultants that represent them – have a clear vested financial interest in the outcome of the assessment.  They can and will take advantage of each and every opportunity for input, and they will be better represented than other stakeholders each and every time.

IRIS recently began holding bimonthly meetings focused on “key science issues” relating to upcoming assessments.  And guess what?  An army of industry representatives, including staff for trade associations and paid consultants, are overwhelming the agendas.

Exhibit A:  Have a quick look at the list of speakers in the agenda for this month’s bimonthly meeting.  A striking imbalance, no?  As many as 8 industry representatives are set to speak on a given issue, including 6 from the same consulting firm!  [UPDATE 6/24/14:  See the top of this post for a description of the updated, slightly more balanced agenda; here is the agenda we had linked to that was current as of last week, and here's the updated agenda posted today.] Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence| Also tagged , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed

New Draft of House Chemical Safety Bill Falls Short; EDF Calls on All Sides to Redouble Effort

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

Release in response to today's House Environment and Economy Subcommittee hearing on a revised discussion draft of the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA)

Today’s hearing makes clear that the discussion draft has made progress but still falls far short of legislation that will fix the fundamental flaws of the current law, according to Dr. Richard Denison, Lead Senior Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund. He urged all sides to keep the bipartisan process moving forward in both houses of Congress.

“While bipartisan discussions have yielded a number of substantial improvements to address serious concerns with the original draft, the most problematic provisions remain virtually untouched,” Denison said. “The goal now should be to keep the conversations going.”

Examples of progress include giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to require testing where data are insufficient for prioritization purposes; incorporation of deadlines for agency action to assess and address risks of high-priority chemicals; and less prescriptive and onerous information quality and evaluation requirements.

Sections of the draft pose major concerns and fail to strike a fair and reasonable balance. Examples include the sweeping preemption of state authority for chemicals never subject to a thorough EPA safety review; overly broad allowances for companies to mask the identity of chemicals even long after market entry; and a failure to ensure that conditions placed on new chemicals apply to all companies making or using them.

“We’re optimistic that solutions are at hand that address the needs of all stakeholders, but it is going to take a redoubling of effort by all sides to get there,” he said.

 

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

Conflicted West Virginia chemical spill panel is repeating many of CDC’s mistakes

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

Yesterday, the chair of a “Health Effects Expert Panel” convened by the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project (WV TAP) held a press conference to present the panel’s preliminary findings from its review of the “safe” level set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for MCHM and other chemicals that spilled into the Elk River in early January and contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginia residents.

A final report from the panel apparently won’t be released until May, but a press release issued yesterday sounds far from preliminary in saying the panel supports CDC’s methods, assumptions, toxicity data and “safety factors.”  While providing no details, the release indicates the panel is using the same flawed and incomplete summary of a toxicity study used by CDC in its rush to set a safe level for MCHM.  And it parrots CDC’s erroneous use of the term “safety factors,” which is at odds with the National Academy of Sciences’ strong recommendation that such term should be avoided as it is highly misleading.

In addition to choosing to rely on the same summary CDC used of a 1990 study conducted by MCHM’s manufacturer, Eastman Chemical, the panel accepted at face value Eastman’s interpretation that the study identified a no-effect level.  That conclusion has been questioned and cannot be independently assessed because Eastman has not provided the actual quantitative data from the study.  Moreover, the study used a protocol dating from 1981 that has been extensively revised at least twice since then.  These are among the many problems identified with this study.

It appears the panel’s main departure from CDC was to assume the most highly exposed population would have been formula-fed infants instead of older children.  The panel’s “safe” level is 120 parts per billion (ppb), a value about 8-fold lower than CDC’s level of 1 part per million (ppm).  That seems an improvement over the CDC’s methodology.

The panel’s conflict of interest

However, the process by which the panel itself was formed and the clear conflict of interest (COI) involved – a conflict that only came to light in response to a reporter’s questions at yesterday’s press conference – are deeply concerning.

The company selected by WV TAP to convene the Health Effects Expert Panel is named Toxicology Excellence in Risk Assessment (TERA), founded by Dr. Michael Dourson.  TERA has a long history of working with the petrochemical and related industries.  Acknowledged sources of industry funding noted on its website include the American Petroleum Institute, PPG Industries, Eli Lilly, the American Cleaning Institute (formerly called the Soap and Detergent Association), Procter & Gamble, and the Nickel Producers Environmental Research Association.

While TERA was chosen by WV TAP to convene the Health Effects Expert Panel, TERA’s role is far more substantial.  TERA appointed its own founder, Dr. Dourson, as chair of the panel, and Dourson was the only one of the panel’s members to speak at yesterday’s press conference.

At the press conference, a reporter asked Dourson whether he or TERA had worked for Eastman Chemical, Dow Chemical (the maker of the other chemicals that spilled on January 9) or trade associations that represent their interests.  Dourson’s response to this question was apparently the first public disclosure of his affiliations with these companies.  According to the Charleston Daily Mail:

During the event, Dourson acknowledged his nonprofit organization TERA had conducted some work for Dow Chemical, one of the makers of a chemical believed to have been involved in the spill. He said they’ve also done work for Eastman Chemical, the maker of crude MCHM, but not recently. TERA has done work for the state of West Virginia in the past as well, he said.

On its website, TERA says it’s received between 31 and 40 percent of its funding since 2008 from industry and industry related work. The rest comes from “government and other nonprofit work.”

The fact that an individual and company that have done work directly for the companies that make the spilled chemicals were selected not only to convene the expert panel, but to chair it and serve as its spokesperson, points to a clear conflict of interest.  And the fact that the conflict was only revealed because a reporter happened to ask the right question is even more troubling.

A quick search for recent work done by Dourson and TERA funded by Dow turned up the following:

TERA also convenes and manages several other projects that are heavily funded by the chemical industry and promote its agenda.  These include:

Anyone else see a problem here?

 

Posted in Health Science, Industry Influence, States| Also tagged , | Comments closed

House TSCA reform discussion draft: Major problem #2 – Preemption of State authority

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

The House’s discussion draft of the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA) issued last week was accompanied by statements from both its sponsor and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) claiming that it represents a “balanced” approached to reform of the Toxic Substances Control ACT (TSCA).

Despite the rhetoric, however, the draft is anything but balanced, and instead pegs the needle far to one side of the dial.  My earlier post describes the massive requirements EPA must meet in order to regulate a dangerous chemical and how far out of kilter those requirements are compared both to current TSCA and to the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), especially as the latter is being revised via ongoing negotiations.

This post focuses on another area in which the CICA draft takes an extreme position:  its preemption of state authority, which is far more sweeping than under current TSCA or even CSIA as introduced.  But first let me start by arguing that any preemption needs to follow – not precede – final EPA actions that are based on robust information.  Read More »

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

House TSCA reform discussion draft: Major problem #1 – EPA regulatory hoops

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

Imagine the following scenario under a new TSCA based on the House discussion draft issued last week:  A major consumer products company decides to expand its line of air fresheners with a new peppermint flavor.  After introducing the new product, information surfaces indicating that one of the product’s ingredients that imparts that aroma causes mutations in a standard genetic toxicity test.

Based on the high hazard and exposure potential, EPA designates the chemical as high priority, requires additional data to be generated, and conducts its safety assessment, concluding the chemical is very likely to be a human carcinogen and poses significant risk when inhaled at levels associated with normal use of the air freshener.

EPA’s safety determination concludes the chemical “will result in an unreasonable risk of harm to human health,” and so EPA initiates the requisite rulemaking to restrict use of the chemical.  Under the House discussion draft (section 6(f)(4)), here’s what EPA would have to prove in order to take any regulatory action:

  • its restriction is “proportional” to the risk involved;
  • the restriction “will result in net benefits;”
  • the restriction is “cost-effective” compared to all alternative restrictions;

AND, here’s the real kicker:

  • there are “technically and economically feasible alternatives that materially reduce risk to human health or the environment compared to the use proposed to be prohibited.”

In other words, before it could act, EPA would have to find a safer, ready-off-the-shelf alternative peppermint flavor for the consumer products company to use instead of the human carcinogen.  And all of the burden of proof – of proportionality, net benefits, cost-effectiveness, technical feasibility, economic feasibility and comparative safety – would rest entirely on EPA and none of it on the company that markets the product or makes the chemical for that intended use.

Something just doesn’t smell right, wouldn’t you say?

These provisions of the House discussion draft would take what is arguably the most fatal flaw in current TSCA – EPA’s inability to regulate dangerous chemicals due to an onerous and paralyzing cost-benefit analysis requirement – and actually make it worse.  While the draft would strike TSCA’s requirement that EPA show any restriction it proposes is the “least burdensome,” it would replace it with evidentiary and analytic burdens that are even more onerous and paralyzing.

There’s a far better and fairer way to deal with the scenario I’ve outlined:  Give EPA the authority to grant exemptions for certain uses of an unsafe chemical – but only for uses that are critical or essential.  That would ensure EPA can effectively restrict non-critical or essential uses of dangerous chemicals.

The seeds of this exemption approach are planted in the Senate’s Chemical Safety Improvement Act (in section 6(c)(10)), although there are other major problems with those provisions of CSIA as introduced (happily, considerable progress toward resolving those problems has been made in the ongoing negotiations on CSIA).

Here’s how an exemption process should work:  EPA would have authority to grant exemptions for uses of an unsafe chemical it finds to be critical or essential.  And companies who believe their use of a chemical is critical or essential could seek such an exemption – but the burden would be on them to show there are no safer, viable alternatives.  The exemptions would be time-limited, and renewable if the need for the exemption is demonstrated to remain.  And EPA would have full authority to impose conditions on such uses needed to protect human health and the environment.

But to force EPA – as the House discussion draft would do – to have to find for a company viable, safer alternatives to a dangerous chemical for each and every use of that chemical it proposes to restrict is simply preposterous.

 

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

Doublespeak is alive and well in the ACC-backed “SAB Reform Act”

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

George Orwell would be proud

Yesterday a Senate copycat of a House bill called the “EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013” was introduced.  The Senate bill has yet to be made publicly available, but that didn’t stop the American Chemistry Council (ACC) from sending out its own release strongly supporting the bill, literally within minutes of the issuance of a press release by the bill’s main sponsors.

Assuming (as stated in the release) that the Senate bill is the same as the House bill, H.R. 1422, no wonder ACC loves this bill: 

  • Tired of having your companies’ scientists and hired consultants excluded from SAB panels because of conflicts of interest?  Write a bill that eliminates such a pesky rule, and then say the bill “eliminates conflicts of interest.”
  • Frustrated by the time limit placed on comments from the army of industry commenters that typically show up at SAB panel meetings?  Bar the setting of any time limit so you can stack the deck, and then say the bill “promotes fairness” and “strengthens public participation.”
  • Unhappy with how many independent academic scientists are seated on SAB panels?  Require not only that panel members be willing to devote their time to review lengthy EPA documents, but that they respond in writing to every public comment received – a massive expansion in the workload placed on panel members, given the flood of industry comments typically provided – and then say the bill “promotes transparency.”
  • Upset with academic scientists on SAB panels that receive government grants not always supporting the industry position?  Claim that they are the ones who have conflicts of interest, single them out for disclosure of their grants and contracts – with no mention of industry consultants – and then say the bill “increases disclosures” related to potential conflicts.  (An earlier version of the bill would actually have set a 10% quota for government-funded scientists on SAB panels; happily that was removed after an outcry.)
  • Want to slow down the pace of EPA risk and hazard assessments?  Require that every single such assessment be sent to SAB for review, exponentially expanding the SAB’s workload and adding months or years to the process of finalizing assessments, and then say the bill merely “enables SAB reviews” of such documents.

Despite its grand claims, the EPA SAB Reform Act is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by ACC and its Hill allies to heavily stack the deck in its favor when it comes to independent scientific reviews of EPA work products.

When the House bill was introduced earlier this year, more than a dozen of the country’s premier public health scientists weighed in strongly opposing the bill, as did a group of prominent environmental NGOs.  See those letters for more details.

While the bill clearly parrots the talking points of the chemical industry when it comes to peer review of government chemical assessments, it should be noted that the bill would apply to any and all aspects of SAB’s work, not just that on chemicals.  So scientists in all fields of endeavor relating to protection of health and the environment ought to be concerned.

 

Posted in Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence| Also tagged , | Comments closed

EDF comments at EPA workshop on applying systematic review methodology to IRIS assessments

Rachel Shaffer is a research assistant.

Lately, much of the attention of the environmental health community has been focused on Capitol Hill and the Lautenberg-Vitter chemical safety reform bill that would amend the antiquated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Yet significant – if somewhat esoteric – developments are underway at EPA that will also have major impacts on how the safety of chemicals is assessed.  EPA has been implementing improvements to its Integrated Risk Information System, commonly known as “IRIS.” The purpose of the IRIS program is to evaluate information on the effects of potential exposures to environmental substances and provide health hazard assessments, which are then used to support regulatory decisions across the agency.  And while it isn’t directly affected by TSCA or its reform, IRIS provides both indirect and direct support to the office at EPA that does administer TSCA.  

In other words, what happens in IRIS doesn’t stay in IRIS.

So… what’s IRIS up to? Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science| Also tagged , , , | Comments closed

Why can’t ACC tell the truth about the Safe Chemicals Act?

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

It’s very disheartening to see just how far the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has moved away from anything resembling a good-faith effort to debate and advance meaningful reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  There’s more than enough in TSCA reform for stakeholders to debate and disagree about without adding distortions and outright falsehoods to the mix, yet ACC seems intent on doing just that.

The latest indication?  An April 16, 2013 post to ACC’s blog titled “A new year, but the same unworkable Safe Chemicals Act.”  The post purports to identify four fatal flaws in the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013, which was introduced on April 10 and is cosponsored by 29 Senators.  The first two utterly ignore or fault the legislation for major changes made to it to address industry concerns, while the latter two once again restate outright falsehoods ACC has made about the Act – claims that ACC knows are false.  Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence, TSCA Reform| Also tagged , , , , , , , | Comments closed
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