EDF Health

Industry’s influence over EPA could get even worse: Chemical advisory board nominees rife with conflicts of interest

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

Today Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Union of Concerned Scientists filed comments on EPA’s list of nominees for appointment to its Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC).  The SACC conducts peer reviews of chemical risk evaluations EPA conducts under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

EPA can rectify this sad state of affairs by excluding these and any other conflicted individuals under consideration from membership on the SACC when EPA adds new members.

Our comments identified 19 nominees that have serious actual or potential conflicts of interest that should disqualify them from being appointed to the SACC.  Unfortunately, their inclusion in EPA’s list of nominees suggests either that EPA has not conducted even the most cursory of conflict-of-interest screenings of these nominees, or that the agency intends to flout conflict-of-interest concerns and skew the balance of its science advisors even further in its drive to prioritize the interests of industry over public health and environmental protection.  The most recent example of this is EPA’s appointments or elevation of members on the agency’s Science Advisory Board earlier this month.

Over the past several months, EPA received a slew of nominations for SACC membership of individuals that are employed either by companies with direct financial interest in specific chemicals or related science policy issues that fall within the remit of the SACC, or by consulting firms hired by those companies or their trade associations to represent their interests before EPA.

As extensively documented in the comments we submitted today, these individuals should not be appointed to the SACC because they trigger one or both of the federal requirements for excluding individuals from membership on federal advisory groups:  having potential or actual conflicts of interest, or creating an appearance of a lack of impartiality.  Read More »

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Two chemicals that remind us why we should exercise caution with the oil industry’s wastewater

Cloelle Danforth, Scientist. 

This post originally appeared on the EDF Energy Exchange blog.

Over the past few years, we’ve written a lot about the wastewater generated from oil and gas production — specifically, how little is known about what’s in it and the potential risks of exposure.

But as states try to set standards for how to safely treat and dispose of this waste, there are two chemicals in particular that deserve to be among the regulatory priorities.

The first is a class of synthetic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFAS for short. Members of this class, often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are highly persistent in the environment, are known to cause adverse health impacts in humans. This can include a range of symptoms, including damage to the immune system, low infant birth weights and cancer.

The second chemical is 1,4-dioxane. Short-term exposure to this carcinogen can cause immediate health impacts, like eye, nose and throat irritation and impaired lung function. Prolonged exposure can lead to liver and kidney damage, as well as cancer.

Read More »

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In major step, Chicago announces lead pipe replacement plan – but could it widen the equity gap?

Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager

In September, Chicago took an important – albeit modest – step towards tackling its colossal number of lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes providing drinking water from the main under the street to homes.

With an estimated 389,900 LSLs, Chicago has more than two times as many LSLs as any other city in the country. In fact, Chicago city code mandated their installation until 1986, when Congress banned it.  Since then, the city has largely turned a blind eye to the problem of existing lead pipes – that is, until now.

On September 10th, Mayor Lightfoot announced the city’s new Lead Service Line Replacement Program, acknowledging the problem and taking initial steps towards fully replacing its lead pipes.  While the starting investment is $19 million, Lightfoot estimates the full cost of the program, including restoration and bringing underground sewerage and water infrastructure up to code, at $8.5 billion. The city currently does not yet have the funds – or a plan – to fully cover the cost. Chicago’s move comes just weeks before the Environmental Protection Agency is slated to release its final revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule.  Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, lead, Public Health / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

ASDWA provides new recommendations to states and utilities for lead service line inventories

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director

The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) released a new white paper to help states and utilities develop more useful inventories of lead service lines (LSLs). The paper builds on guidance the organization issued in August 2019. ASDWA partnered with BlueConduit to leverage that firm’s experience developing a statistical model for Flint, Michigan that accurately predicted which service lines were made of lead, galvanized steel, plastic or copper.

The guidance is timely as EPA prepares to finalize its Lead and Copper Rule revisions. We anticipate those revisions will require utilities to develop – and make public – inventories that identify the location of each service line made of lead or when the material is unknown and may be lead. Utilities would also be required to notify customers annually if they have a lead or unknown service line. Customers who buy a home and open a new water account would also be notified in the first bill.

The ASDWA/BlueConduit white paper encourages utilities to use five principles to best characterize the uncertainty in their inventories:

  1. Ensuring clean data management and organization;
  2. Not accepting all historical records as truth;
  3. Conducting a representative randomized sample of unverified service lines;
  4. Being transparent in public outreach and reproducibility; and
  5. Demonstrating accuracy on “hold-out sample.”

Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, lead, States / Tagged | Comments are closed

New study: Lead reduction prevented up to 99,000 heart disease deaths in 2014 alone

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director

EPA needs to estimate reduced heart disease deaths when it evaluates the merits of four upcoming rules addressing lead in water, paint, and air.

In 2018, we blogged on a study by Lanphear et al. that linked adult blood lead to a jaw-dropping 400,000 heart disease deaths annually. We called on federal regulatory agencies to give serious consideration to this and similar studies to develop a model they can use to quantify the socioeconomic benefits of potential regulatory changes designed to reduce adult exposure to lead. In June, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) successfully completed the necessary peer review of a model. The review was completed too late to be incorporated into the agency’s proposed revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule (released October 2019), but we applied the analysis to estimate that replacing all lead service lines in the nation over ten years would provide societal benefits of more than $205 billion – and called on EPA to consider the benefits when finalizing the rule.

Last week, Abt Associates, EPA’s contractor[1] who developed the initial peer-reviewed model, published a refined model in Environmental Health Perspectives and used it to estimate that between 34,000 and 99,000 cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related deaths were avoided in 2014 due to reduced adult blood lead levels from 1999 to 2014. The analysis reports that between 16% and 46% of the overall reduced CVD deaths during those 15 years was attributable to reduced lead in adult blood. Read More »

Posted in Emerging Science, lead / Tagged | Comments are closed

FDA’s Failure on Food Chemical Safety Leaves Consumers at Risk of Chronic Diseases

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Update: FDA published the citizen petition upon receipt on 9/23, and is requesting public comment.

More than 60 years ago, Congress enacted legislation requiring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the food industry to evaluate the cumulative effects of substances in the diet that have related health impacts when assessing the safety of chemical additives. In our decade of analyzing FDA and industry actions, we have been increasingly concerned that both have ignored this requirement. To figure it out, we investigated all safety determinations contained in Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) notifications voluntarily submitted by food manufacturers to FDA since the program began in 1997. We looked at GRAS notices because they are publicly available and because FDA rules explicitly require that food manufacturers include in the notice an explanation of how they considered the requirement. If there was an omission, it would be more easily noticeable.

We found that in only one of 877 GRAS notices did a food manufacturer consider the cumulative effect requirement in a meaningful way. And we found no evidence that the agency either recognized this single attempt to follow the law or had objected to the omissions in the 876 other notices. This failure has significant consequences for public health, particularly for communities who already face significant health and socio-economic disparities, and for children, who are uniquely susceptible to dietary exposures to multiple chemicals.

For this reason, EDF joined with other health, environmental, and consumer groups to file a formal petition to demand FDA and food manufacturers start following the law. The petition requests specific changes to rules designed to reinforce the existing requirement and make it easier to verify compliance. Still, given the lack of transparency in agency reviews, success still largely depends on FDA and the food industry taking seriously the mandate and the food safety implications.

Read More »

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