EDF Health

Fatally Flawed: EDF & partners call on EPA to revoke approval for new chemicals with shocking health risks

 

 

A sepia-toned image showing a factory with dark smoke billowing out of multiple smokestacks.

What Happened?

EDF and other environmental groups recently asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw the approval it issued for a group of new chemicals. This approval, also known as a consent order, allows Chevron to create fuels at its refinery in Pascagoula, Mississippi, by using oils produced through a process of superheating plastic waste to break it down (a process known as pyrolysis). The consent order also allows for the use of these fuels derived from waste plastic at more than 100 locations. ProPublica published an article on the issue on August 4, 2023.

Why It Matters

EPA is required by law to provide protections against unreasonable risks posed by new chemicals. But in the consent order EPA approved the production and use of these new chemicals despite significant health risks. One of the chemicals posed a 1 in 4 risk of developing cancer for people exposed to it. Another chemical carried risks of a 7 in 100 cancer risk from eating fish contaminated by it and a greater than 1.3 in 1 cancer risk from inhaling it.

When asked about the shockingly high cancer risks it estimated, EPA claimed its cancer risk assumptions were overly conservative but failed to provide any information about what it believes are the actual risks and pointed to undefined controls under other laws as controlling the risks.

Until now, the acceptable risk standard for cancer in the general population has been 1 in 1,000,000. The risk levels EPA identified are up to 1,000,000 times greater than that. Read More »

Posted in Adverse health effects, Chemical exposure, Chemical regulation, Frontline communities, Health hazards, Health policy, Industry influence, Risk assessment, Risk evaluation, TSCA, Vulnerable populations / Tagged , , , , | Authors: / Comments are closed

EPA Should Use U.S. Chemical Safety Law to Turn Off PFAS Tap

The word

PFAS is a group of synthetic chemicals used in industrial processes and consumer products, including water-repellent clothing, such as outdoor wear, and food packaging. Once these “forever chemicals” are produced and used, they often make their way into the environment and our bodies. Many pose serious threats due to their toxic effects (often at trace levels) and their ability to build up in people, animals and the environment. Studies show that they are in almost all of us.

To make matters worse, people are exposed to multiple PFAS, not individual PFAS in isolation. Yet under the nation’s primary chemical safety law, EPA evaluates the safety of PFAS chemicals one at a time and does not consider the combined risks from exposures to multiple PFAS. Combined exposures increase the risk of harmful effects, thus magnifying the risks and the need for action.

Current Situation: All Costs, No Benefits

PFAS move easily throughout the environment and are difficult to destroy. They have contaminated drinking water, food, farms, wildlife, and the environment more broadly. At the local, state and federal levels, the U.S. is spending millions of dollars to clean up PFAS contamination. Some states, such as Michigan and Maine, are trying to recoup the costs their residents have had to bear to clean-up PFAS contamination of their water and land. The federal government is also taking action to address the widespread PFAS contamination. The costs for cleaning up PFAS contamination are imposed on society by the domestic producers, importers and users of PFAS who profit from their production and use.

Yet, despite the well-documented risks and costs to society of these chemicals, companies still continue to produce, import, and use PFAS. It is time to ban all PFAS or—if there are truly essential uses for these chemicals—limit how they are produced, imported and used so that their impact on us and the environment is minimal.

Urgent Need: Revisit, Reassess, and Regulate All PFAS

While EPA has recently tightened up approvals for new PFAS entering the market, it has yet to take significant action on those that are already on the market, which includes the hundreds of PFAS the agency approved over the past few decades. It is clear these PFAS have not been produced responsibly as demonstrated by the environmental contamination associated with many of the PFAS manufacturing facilities. And yet, many of these PFAS are still on the market. They are being produced and released into the environment, are in products we use every day, and continue to contaminate us and our environment.

Many of EPA’s approvals were made 10 to 20 years ago, before we had a full picture of the pervasiveness and degree of PFAS contamination. The data on the extent of the environmental contamination of these persistent PFAS, their ability to move through the environment, and the significant difficulty in destroying them was not as robust as it is today. Furthermore, mounting evidence shows that even trace levels of PFAS can cause developmental issues in children, reduced fertility, hormonal disruptions, and certain types of cancer.

In addition, these approvals did not consider risks to vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and children as currently required by the law. Many communities are exposed to multiple PFAS, particularly those who live, work and play near where PFAS are made and used.

Addressing the production, import and use of PFAS would limit further pollution of our water supplies, safeguard the health of our communities, and be consistent with other strong EPA actions to address PFAS, including its recent robust proposed drinking water standards.

Effective regulation of these harmful chemicals at their source would also accelerate efforts to seek out and adopt safer alternatives. Leaving chemicals with such well-documented harms on the market makes it more difficult for innovative, safer substitutes to enter it. Failing to address these risks in effect puts a thumb on the scale in support of older harmful technologies.

Our Take

EPA should re-evaluate each of the PFAS it has approved. During that re-evaluation, EPA should use the best available science and consider the full picture of PFAS exposure. Considering each PFAS in isolation rather than the multiple PFAS people, particularly those in vulnerable groups, are exposed to will underestimate their risk.

EPA should use the Toxic Substances Control Act to take action to ban these legacy PFAS, or restrict them if the uses are truly essential, rather than continuing to allow the production, import and use of these demonstrably harmful “forever chemicals.”

Go Deeper

Learn more about EDF’s concerns about PFAS and read our follow-up blog  on how EPA can use TSCA to turn off the PFAS tap.

EPA’s information on PFAS

Posted in Chemical exposure, Chemical regulation, Contamination, Cumulative impact, Cumulative risk assessment, Emerging testing methods, Food, Food packaging, Health hazards, Health science, PFAS, Public health, Risk assessment, Risk evaluation, TSCA, Vulnerable populations / Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Authors: / Comments are closed

PFAS: EPA’s proposed notification requirements are a positive step, but exemptions will cause harm

Maria Doa, PhD, Senior Director, Chemicals Policy

The Good News

Using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA proposed a rule that would require companies to notify the agency before they produce or import a PFAS “forever chemical” that has not been used commercially since 2006.

These notifications are crucial because resuming production or import of these toxic chemicals would expose people to harm. The notification gives EPA an opportunity to evaluate these PFAS to determine if exposure during their lifecycle—production or import, distribution in commerce, industrial, commercial and/or consumer use, and disposal—is likely to pose an “unreasonable risk” to people or the environment.

The Not-So-Good News

EPA is proposing to exempt some parts of the PFAS lifecycle from the notification requirement if the PFAS are:

  • Part of certain types of products EPA designates as “articles”—such as carpets.
  • Impurities.
  • Byproducts used as fuels or disposed of as waste, including in a landfill or for enriching soil.

EPA also asked if it should go a step further by broadening the exemption and completely exempting the PFAS if they are byproducts with no commercial purpose on their own.

Why It Matters

Exempting any part of the PFAS lifecycle from EPA’s evaluation will result in PFAS exposure—no ifs, ands or buts. This is a big problem because small amounts of these chemicals can cause harm, and many PFAS remain in our bodies for months—or even years.

Our Take

In our comments on the proposed rule, Environmental Defense Fund said that because of the well-documented harms caused by PFAS, EPA should not allow exemptions.

The impurities and articles exemptions could have a significant impact. PFAS impurities can end up in both commercial and consumer goods (like cleaning products), leading to exposure when people use them, or unintentionally release them into the environment. PFAS can also leach out of articles through handling or weathering—exposing us and our environment.

The byproduct exemptions could have an even more significant impact. The broader exemption for PFAS produced “as a byproduct with no commercial purpose” is basically the same exemption that allowed the notorious Gen-X to be produced and released for years without any controls—contaminating the Cape Fear River and impacting the health and welfare of its residents. EPA should not allow this to happen with other PFAS.

In addition, EPA should not allow a narrower byproduct exemption either, as it would still exempt PFAS applied to soil for “enrichment” or burned as fuel. “Enriching” soil with PFAS-contaminated waste can pollute the land (including farmland), affecting the livelihood of farmers, the animals that graze on the land, and the food we eat. Burning it as a fuel is also likely to release PFAS into the air because the chemicals are so difficult to destroy.

These exemptions also are at odds with other EPA actions to address PFAS contamination, such as its recent strong and scientifically robust proposed drinking water standards.

What’s Next?

EPA should not allow any exemptions for these PFAS. EPA should ensure that it has the opportunity to review these PFAS and identify any unreasonable risks before they reenter the marketplace. Only by addressing PFAS early in the lifecycle can we limit the contamination and health harms they cause.

Posted in Frontline communities, Health hazards, Public health, TSCA / Authors: / Read 1 Response

TSCA And The East Palestine Ohio Train Derailment Are Related–Here’s How

Derailed train, leaking toxic chemicalsBy Maria Doa, PhD, Senior Director, Chemicals Policy, and Lauren Ellis, MPH, Research Analyst

What Happened:  We recently expressed concern to EPA about its conclusion that “distribution in commerce” (including the transportation of chemicals) does not contribute to the unreasonable risk for any of the first 10 chemicals evaluated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). 

In response, EPA stated that exposures from the distribution of chemicals in commerce would be minimal “given the fact that these chemicals are transported according to existing hazardous materials transportation rules.” 

Why It Matters: EPA does not currently quantify exposures and risks from spills, leaks, and other releases from transportation incidents. But people can be—and are—exposed to toxic chemicals at all stages of the chemical lifecycle, from these incidents to chemical facility releases.

For example, last month, a Norfolk Southern freight train hauling several railcars carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. This is just the latest example of how accidents involving highly toxic chemicals can have harmful impacts—both short- and long-term—on communities’ health and welfare.

The Ohio train derailment not only put several surrounding communities at risk of chemical pollution and negative health outcomes, but also highlighted the connection between TSCA and the risks of toxic chemicals from transportation accidents.

 

What’s Next: To accurately assess chemical risk under TSCA, EPA should consider data on spills, leaks, and releases from derailments, collisions, and other transportation incidents in its risk evaluations. These releases and exposures simply cannot be ignored.

By expanding evaluations to include the risks of chemicals at all stages of the chemical lifecycle, EPA can better protect communities.

Go Deeper: Visit our Deep Dives blog for a more in-depth analysis of this issue. 

Posted in Deep Dives, Public health, TSCA / Read 2 Responses

EPA Should Address Cumulative Risks from New Chemicals

Names of blog authors: Maria Doa, PhD, Sr. Director, Chemicals Policy, and Lariah Edwards, PhD, Associate Research Scientist, Columbia University

What’s Happening? EPA’s current safety assessments of new chemicals proposed for market entry often fall short of effectively protecting all members of the public from risk because they don’t consider that we may be exposed to closely related chemicals that cause similar harms.

Recent Example: EPA proposed rules requiring notification of significant new uses for a group of new chemicals. Two of these chemicals, known as trimellitate esters, are very closely related, and would be expected to cause very similar harms and have very similar uses—so that people exposed to one chemical would likely be exposed to the other. Despite this, EPA did not consider the chemicals together or even use the information it had on one to inform its understanding of the safety of the other.

This doesn’t make sense.

Even though EPA said that one chemical was intended to be used as a lubricant and the other as a plasticizer (a chemical that makes plastics more flexible), it is likely that both could be used as a plasticizer or a lubricant. They may be used together or turn up in similar consumer products, such as a car’s dashboard. Further, both chemicals are very closely related to yet another plasticizer used in the auto industry, but it appears that EPA considered these nearly interchangeable chemicals in isolation from one another.

Items that require plasticizers for production. They include seats in cars, rain boots, a garden hose, medical gloves, an exercise ball, and rolls of wallpaper.

In fact, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA is required to identify such “reasonably foreseen uses,” such as ending up in the same product.

Why It Matters: Evaluating chemicals in isolation likely underestimates the exposures and risks workers, consumers, and frontline communities face. Doing so also fails to make use of all the best available science, since information on each of these two chemicals (as well as the one already being used) could inform the safety determination for the other.

Considering the combined risks from similar chemicals is not new. EPA is already doing this for another group of closely related chemicals—phthalates. Phthalates have long been widely used in a range of consumer products and are detected in almost all our bodies. Phthalates are known to impact male reproductive health. EPA is joining the ranks of other federal agencies that have considered the cumulative risks they pose.

Our Take: EPA should not stop at phthalates. They can and should be incorporating cumulative approaches from the very beginning of a chemical’s regulatory life. Considering the impact of combined exposures does not need to be complicated and EPA could make such a consideration without much extra effort.

EPA can take a first step toward doing this by considering the potential for cumulative risks when finalizing its regulation on the significant new uses for these two new closely related chemicals.

Go Deeper: Read EDF’s response to EPA’s proposed new SNURs. And check out our Cumulative Risk Assessment Framework.

Posted in Environment, Health science, Industry influence, Public health, TSCA / Comments are closed

Toxic Chemicals: Regulatory exemptions prioritize industry wants over safety needs

A rubber stamp lies on its side to the right of the photo. To the left, you see the stamped image of a skull and crossbones and the words Toxic Substances

By Maria Doa, PhD, Senior Director, Chemicals Policy

What’s the Issue?

EPA grants exemptions from full safety reviews for approximately half the new chemicals submitted by the chemical industry. Once those exemptions are granted, EPA very rarely revises or revokes them—even in the face of new information.

The Toxic Substances Control Act allows EPA to grant an exemption from a full safety review only if it determines that the chemical will not present an unreasonable risk. That’s a high standard—and one that many exemptions do not meet.

Why it Matters:

  • The chemical industry takes maximum advantage of exemptions given the abbreviated safety review and the industry’s ability to keep their use of new chemicals under the radar. For example, the chemicals that get exemptions don’t go on the national inventory of chemicals that are in use.
  • For years, EPA has granted exemptions for chemicals that can have long-term negative impacts on human health and the environment. They include hundreds of exemptions for PFAS, “forever chemicals” known to contaminate our water supplies and farmland. And it’s not just PFAS. EPA has granted exemptions for other types of persistent, bio-accumulative, toxic (PBT) chemicals that can have lasting impacts on people and the environment.
  • These exemptions often contradict TSCA’s requirement that EPA consider the risks from a chemical throughout its lifecycle. That includes the risks for vulnerable groups who may be more susceptible to the chemical or who are more highly exposed, such as frontline communities.
  • EPA does not typically consider the cumulative impacts of multiple exempted chemicals on frontline communities, consumers, or the environment.

Our Take: EPA has an important opportunity to address overuse of TSCA exemptions.

Next Steps:

  • EPA should revisit the exemptions it has already granted. The agency should determine that chemicals truly do not present an unreasonable risk—particularly to vulnerable populations—throughout their lifecycles. EPA should focus first on chemicals that can have long-lasting impacts on health and the environment, like PFAS and other PBTs.
  • Before granting any new exemptions, EPA should consider the combined impacts throughout the lifecycle of these chemicals on all stakeholders, especially frontline communities. EPA Administrator Regan recently said EPA would be embedding environmental justice into the DNA of EPA. This is another opportunity for EPA to do just that.
Posted in Frontline communities, Industry influence, PFAS, Public health, TSCA / Tagged , , , , , , | Authors: / Comments are closed