EDF Health

EPA Takes Important Step to Ban Chrysotile Asbestos

Maria Doa, Ph.D., Senior Director, Chemicals Policy

EPA has made the important and long-awaited decision to propose banning nearly all remaining uses of chrysotile asbestos in the United States. EDF submitted comments supporting this proposed ban (with some caveats) because of the high risk of cancer and fatal respiratory diseases for individuals who import, process, distribute, and use chrysotile asbestos. The rule could be significantly improved by requiring a more immediate ban. If EPA chooses a more extended phase-in of the ban, we recommend that the Agency require companies to reduce workplace exposures in the interim to better protect workers.

Summary of Key EDF Concerns and Comments

Although asbestos is a known carcinogen, it is still used in automobile brake linings, gaskets, and brake blocks, as well as in permeable separators (diaphragms) at chlor-alkali facilities to produce chlorine and caustic soda. Currently, nearly 40,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-related illnesses. These deaths are preventable and must be stopped, and we applaud EPA for taking this step toward doing so.

  • EDF supports rapid implementation of EPA’s proposed chrysotile asbestos ban. Given the unreasonable risk posed by asbestos, we call on EPA to start the ban for all uses within 6 months after publishing the finalized rule.
  • In the event EPA chooses an extended phase-in (>6 months) of the ban on using chrysotile asbestos in chlor-alkali diaphragms and sheet gaskets, it should require companies to reduce workplace exposures during the interim in a way that poses the least risk to potentially exposed populations—particularly workers. In this case, we call on EPA to require hazard communication and the hierarchy of controls—first by reducing exposure through process, engineering, or administrative changes. Personal protective equipment (PPE) as a risk-reduction measure should be used only after applying these other controls to reduce chemical exposures. However, this approach would be less effective and more burdensome on workers than eliminating exposure completely and should be used only as a short-term, interim measure until the ban goes into effect.
  • EPA should explain how its proposed disposal requirements address the unreasonable risk presented by chrysotile asbestos. EDF is concerned that EPA has not demonstrated how compliance with OSHA’s Asbestos General Industry Standard and EPA’s National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants would eliminate unreasonable risk, as TSCA requires.
  • EPA underestimates the benefits of preventing health impacts by banning chrysotile asbestos. In baseline exposure calculations, the Agency inappropriately assumes that workers will consistently and correctly use PPE while handling chrysotile asbestos and dramatically underestimates how many individuals will benefit from the rule. EPA should bolster its Economic Analysis in the final rule to more accurately reflect the benefits of the ban.

In addition, the proposed rule indicates EPA is continuing to include troubling policy decisions in its risk evaluations. Moving forward:

  • EPA should not consider costs or other non-risk factors in risk evaluations. EPA states it will consider use of PPE and other risk-management activities in its risk evaluations to help in making risk-management decisions—an approach that is not scientifically supportable and inappropriately conflates risk assessment with risk management.
  • EPA should not inappropriately treat workers differently from the general population by applying a less-protective cancer benchmark for workers. TSCA does not support this approach. Given that workers are particularly identified in TSCA for consideration and often face higher risks than the general population, making a less-protective standard is especially unjustified. (See our June 21, 2022 blog post on this issue.)

EDF also found many areas of agreement with EPA in the proposed risk-management rule. You can read the full set of comments here.

 

 

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Companies are not withdrawing PFAS exemptions on their own; EPA should

Samantha Liskow, Lead Counsel, Healthy Communities; and Lauren Ellis, Research Analyst, Environmental Health

EPA has committed to address the urgent issues presented by PFAS, a harmful class of human-made chemicals that are used widely in everyday products. Last July, as part of this effort, EPA called on companies to voluntarily withdraw some 600 PFAS that were previously allowed onto the market through a fast-track exemption process known as a “low volume exemption” (LVE).

Nearly a year later, however, less than 3% of these low volume per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been pulled from the market. That means manufacturers in the U.S. could still be making PFAS that never went through a full safety review – possibly millions of pounds each year. Read More »

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The many ways the American Chemistry Council wants to turn back time on TSCA implementation – Part 2

Part 2 of a 2-part series: Unrestricted approvals of new chemicals, with low fees 

Maria Doa, Ph.D., Senior Director, Chemicals Policy

In its recently issued ‘State of TSCA’ report, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) tries to turn back the clock on how EPA assesses and mitigates the risks of toxic chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and in the process leave workers, frontline communities and other vulnerable individuals at risk.  

In my previous blog, I looked at how ACC’s proposals would restrict the EPA’s ability to assess chemical risks and the science behind it. In this second and final part of our blog series looking at the chemical industry trade group’s report, I discuss ACC’s plan to dictate how EPA should assess the safety of new chemicals industry hopes to bring to the marketplace, as well as its effort to let industry avoid paying its fair share of the cost for EPA to evaluate chemical risks.  Read More »

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The many ways the American Chemistry Council wants to turn back time on TSCA implementation – Part 1

Part 1 of a 2-part series: Minimizing or ignoring chemical risks

Maria Doa, Ph.D., Senior Director, Chemicals Policy 

In its recently issued ‘State of TSCA’ report, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) tries to turn back the clock on how EPA assesses and mitigates the risks of toxic chemicals. The chemical industry group looks to return to the policies of the Trump years – a time rife with scientific integrity issues and wholesale disregard of risks – particularly those risks to frontline communities, workers and other vulnerable groups: the very groups the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) calls out for special consideration.

This 2-part blog series looks at the six ways ACC hopes to turn back time on chemical safety and looks at the harms that would result if trade group’s self-serving ideas were to be adopted. Part 1 looks at the types of risks ACC wants EPA to exclude from its chemical risk evaluations, the workers and other groups whose health would be affected, as well as the trade group’s goal to have itself appointed as the arbitrator of EPA science. Part 2 looks at ACC’s efforts to dictate the process for assessing new chemicals and industry’s clear goal to avoid paying its fair share of the cost to evaluate the risks posed by some of the most dangerous chemicals already in the marketplace.  Read More »

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EPA to release assessment of toxic formaldehyde, rejects industry’s tired delay tactics

Maria Doa, Ph.D., Senior Director, Chemicals Policy 

The EPA will release a draft Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment of formaldehyde, a key scientific review that identifies and characterizes the hazards from chronic exposure to this known carcinogen. The draft assessment, due to be published tomorrow, will be reviewed by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (National Academies).

We welcome the EPA’s decision to issue its formaldehyde assessment. Release of the assessment is a win for scientific integrity that follows years of pressure from industry groups and efforts during the previous administration to suppress the assessment. 

The EPA’s IRIS program is the gold standard for identifying and characterizing the hazards that result from exposure to chemicals. Its findings are essential to informing health-based standards that protect frontline communities, workers, children, consumers and more.   Read More »

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Industry-requested risk evaluation for D4 under TSCA: EPA has improved its scoping approach, but must go further

Lauren Ellis, Research Analyst, Environmental Health

Earlier this week, EDF submitted comments to EPA on the agency’s draft scope for the manufacturer-requested risk evaluation of D4 under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This is EPA’s first draft scope under the Biden Administration – providing an opportunity to see where improvements have been made and where challenges still exist (see EDF’s and others’ comments on the last set of draft scopes under the Trump Administration).

In our comments, we applaud the agency for developing a more comprehensive chemical risk evaluation plan than EPA provided in past scopes. For instance, in its draft scope document, EPA indicated its intent to assess exposure occurring via environmental release to capture fenceline exposures – a necessary step toward addressing environmental justice considerations under TSCA. EPA also indicated it would not assume the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) when evaluating and making determinations on potential risks to workers – a highly problematic approach taken in the past. However, the draft D4 scope also revealed areas still needing further improvement, including greater detail on how the agency will approach differential risks across the population and address combined exposures from different sources.

Last year, the Silicones Environmental, Health and Safety Center (SEHSC), on behalf of Dow Silicones Corporation, Elkem Silicones USA Corporation, Evonik Corporation, Momentive Performance Materials, Shin-Etsu Silicones of America, Inc., and Wacker Chemical Corporation, asked EPA to evaluate D4, or octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane, under TSCA’s provisions governing manufacturer-requested risk evaluations. In October 2020, EPA granted that request. Critically, when conducting manufacturer-requested risk evaluations, EPA must adhere to the same requirements under TSCA as EPA-initiated risk evaluations, including consideration of all reasonably available information and use of the best available science.

D4 is a high production cyclic siloxane chemical, with an annual U.S. production volume of 750 million to 1 billion pounds. It has widespread industrial, commercial, and consumer uses, including as a reactant to make other silicone chemicals; in adhesives, paints, and plastic products; and in food packaging, personal care products (e.g., hair, skin, and nail products), over-the-counter medications (e.g., anti-gas drugs), and medical devices (e.g., breast implants).

D4 hazard, exposure, and risk has been considered by the Government of Canada and the European Chemicals Agency, among others. In 2009, a Health Canada screening assessment concluded that D4 is harmful to the environment and its biodiversity. In Europe, D4 is currently restricted in wash-off cosmetics (concentration limit of 0.1 % w/w); and recently, the European Chemicals Agency proposed further restrictions on D4 in other consumer and commercial uses due to potential risk. Notably, here in the U.S., EPA has received 39 separate “substantial risk reports” on D4 under TSCA Section 8(e), highlighting health concerns such as reproductive toxicity and immunotoxicity. Given the results of previous risk assessments on D4, and the significant number of risk reports provided to the agency, EPA must comprehensively assess the potential risk of D4 in all relevant uses to best protect public health.

Despite EPA’s movement toward a more comprehensive, public health protective approach to risk evaluation (see EDF’s Re-visioning TSCA after the Trump years blog series), the draft D4 scope highlights significant issues that remain, including:

  • Insufficient indication of specific “potentially exposed and susceptible subpopulations” that will be included in the risk evaluation;
  • Absence of a revised systematic review method and a specific systematic review protocol for D4;
  • Inadequate plan to use information authorities under TSCA to fill the extensive data gaps identified;
  • Failure to consider combined exposures to D4 in the workplace (e.g., when a worker is engaged in multiple activities involving potential exposure to D4);
  • Failure to consider combined exposures to individuals who fall into multiple receptor categories (e.g., individuals exposed to D4 in both the workplace and as resident of a fenceline community);
  • Insufficient commitment to consider relevant “background exposures” of D4 that may fall outside of TSCA’s direct regulatory authority but are relevant to evaluating risks from “TSCA uses” (e.g., exposures from food packaging, personal care products, and medical applications); and
  • Insufficient detail on how EPA plans to assess and incorporate uncertainty associated with the use of modeled or surrogate data when evaluating potential D4 risk.

EDF commends EPA for improvements made from previous scopes, and urges the agency to address the identified deficiencies in the final D4 scope.

See EDF’s comments for more detail.

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