EDF Health

Helping EPA identify and protect those at greater risk from chemicals undergoing TSCA risk evaluation

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist, and Lariah Edwards, Ph.D., is an EDF-George Washington University Postdoctoral Fellow

EPA Administrator Michael Regan recently completed a five-day “journey to justice” tour, highlighting communities across three US states that have been adversely affected by decades of chemical and air pollution. EPA’s focus on protecting those whose health is at greater risk, including communities disproportionately burdened by harmful chemical exposures, must be a priority in its implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

This week, EDF submitted comments to EPA to support the agency’s review of nine widely used substances currently undergoing TSCA risk evaluation: 1,3-butadiene, formaldehyde, and seven ortho-phthalates (phthalates). Our comments identify key groups that are at greater risk from these chemicals because they are more susceptible to their effects or are disproportionately exposed from environmental releases. Importantly, while our comments involved a broad review of the public literature, they do not capture all groups potentially at greater risk to exposure from these substances—and we strongly urge EPA to comprehensively identify all such groups using its information authorities as needed. Read More »

Posted in EPA, TSCA Reform / Read 1 Response

The science behind toxic inequities in beauty and personal care products

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Prominent incidences of environmental injustice in the public eye are typically place-based — from lead-contaminated tap water in Flint, Michigan to smokestacks lining Cancer Alley in Louisiana. For decades, communities of color and low income communities have confronted long-standing discriminatory practices and policies around land use, housing, and related issues that result in greater exposures to pollution and toxic chemicals.

While geography is a predictor of an individual’s health and well-being, environmental injustice and environmental racism extend beyond geography to include inequities in toxic exposures like in personal care product formulations. Beauty and personal care products marketed to women of color often contain more toxic ingredients than products marketed to white women. As a result, women of color are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals through these products. Read More »

Posted in Markets and Retail / Tagged , , , | Read 2 Responses

Finally—EPA takes steps to unify its approach to the evaluation of chemicals for cancer and non-cancer endpoints

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist, and Lariah Edwards, Ph.D., is an EDF-George Washington University Postdoctoral Fellow

A recent article in Inside EPA ($) indicated that the US EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) will begin piloting a “unified approach” to the evaluation of chemicals for cancer and non-cancer endpoints. Specifically, it appears that the program intends to develop analyses demonstrating how a unified approach could work as supplements to some of its chemical assessments. This represents a major step forward in advancing the science of chemical assessment at EPA and is responsive to recommendations the scientific community and stakeholders have been making for years.

By way of background, chemical regulatory assessments generally assume that if a chemical is a genotoxic carcinogen, there is no exposure threshold for the effect. This means that across a diverse population, some level of risk for developing cancer exists at any level of exposure. Traditionally for all other toxicity endpoints, EPA and other regulatory agencies typically have assumed that there is a bright-line exposure threshold below which no adverse health effect will be seen.

This bifurcated approach to characterizing chemical hazards and risks is not scientifically supported. The assumption that there are “safe” exposure thresholds for all non-cancer endpoints ignores real-world variability in exposure and susceptibility across the human population.  This variability influences whether any particular person or group will experience an adverse effect, and includes such factors as: co-exposures to other chemical and non-chemical stressors and differences in susceptibility that may arise from things like genetic differences or underlying health conditions.

Read More »

Posted in EPA, States / Tagged | Comments are closed

EPA IRIS program receives high marks from the National Academies

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist and Ryan O’Connell is a High Meadows Fellow with the Health Program.

Last week the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, concluding that the program has made strong progress in implementing NAS’ earlier recommendations. As noted by the chair of the NAS committee that led the review, “The changes in the IRIS program over such a short period of time are impressive.”

As I’ve blogged about before, IRIS is a non-regulatory program that provides critical chemical reviews and scientific expertise that help ensure the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land where we live, work, and play are safe. Offices across EPA and elsewhere in the federal government rely on IRIS, as do states, local governments, and affected communities (see here and here).

“The changes in the IRIS program over such a short period of time are impressive.”

The new NAS report comes four years after its 2014 review, which noted the substantial progress made by IRIS in addressing recommendations from a more critical 2011 review of a draft IRIS assessment of formaldehyde. It is worth noting that half of the committee members involved in the new IRIS review served on the committee that authored the 2011 review.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Science / Tagged , | Comments are closed

The Big Squeeze: Dangers for public health lurk in recent EPA re-org efforts

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Over the past several months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made or proposed a number of distressing shifts in offices or staff that support critical chemicals-related activities and scientific research. The programs affected include the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, the Safer Choice program, and the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER). Not coincidentally, each of these programs has been in the crosshairs of certain segments of industry and its allies in Congress and the Administration.

This blog post briefly reviews the proposed or implemented shifts and their implications.   Read More »

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

EDF lends strong support to EPA’s IRIS Program in comments at National Academies workshop

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Last week the National Academies held a public workshop as part of its review of changes that have been made, or that are planned, by the U.S. EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program. The last National Academies review, published in 2014, pointed to significant advancements the program had already achieved since its prior 2011 report:

Overall, the committee finds that substantial improvements in the IRIS process have been made, and it is clear that EPA has embraced and is acting on the recommendations in the NRC formaldehyde report. The NRC formaldehyde committee recognized that its suggested changes would take several years and an extensive effort by EPA staff to implement. Substantial progress, however, has been made in a short time, and the present committee’s recommendations should be seen as building on the progress that EPA has already made.

As I’ve blogged before, the EPA IRIS program is a non-regulatory program that provides critical information and scientific expertise that helps ensure that the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land where we live, work, and play are safe. For example, the IRIS program has a central role to play in helping address widespread contamination of drinking water with perfluorinated chemicals.

The American public depends on the IRIS program and it is imperative that the program remain intact, housed apart from regulatory parts of the agency, and adequately resourced.

In the comments I provided on behalf of EDF at the meeting, I emphasized that the IRIS program is:

  • critical to protecting public health;
  • making significant progress toward advancing systematic review in chemicals assessment, adopting best practices from the clinical sciences in line with earlier National Academies recommendations;
  • approaching the integration of mechanistic information in chemical assessment in a scientifically sound manner;
  • making important investments in specialized software tools designed to make the development and updating of chemical assessments more efficient; and
  • appropriately and necessarily situated within the science arm of EPA where it is best positioned to conduct strong, independent science.

The IRIS program has unquestionably been responsive to earlier recommendations of the National Academies and is arguably yet again surpassing expectations. The American public depends on the IRIS program and it is imperative that the program remain intact, housed apart from regulatory parts of the agency, and adequately resourced.

A final report by the Committee is expected this spring.

Posted in EPA, Health Science, Public Health / Tagged | Comments are closed