EDF Health

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.

Also posted in Environment, Health Science, Industry Influence, 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.
Also posted in Industry Influence, TSCA, Uncategorized / Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

EPA greenlights 21 states’ SRF plans to fund LSL replacement projects

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals

What’s New: EPA announced it has awarded $1.16 billion to the State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs in 21 states, the District of Columbia, and three territories to support lead service line (LSL) replacement projects. In order to secure funding, these states developed and submitted Intended Use Plans (IUPs), which included LSL replacement projects that met EPA’s requirements.

Why It Matters: These 25 programs can now begin distributing their share of the first of five years of funding from the $15 billion Congress included in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) specifically for full LSL replacement projects. The remaining states are working to get their IUPs submitted to EPA.

Read More »

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The LSLR Collaborative’s new guide helps communities design equitable lead service line replacement programs

Guest post from Mason Hines, Mediator with RESOLVE and Facilitator for the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative.  See the original post here.

For over six years, RESOLVE has convened the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative, a joint effort of 28 national public health, water utility, environmental, labor, consumer, housing, and state and local governmental organizations to accelerate full removal of the lead pipes providing drinking water to millions of American homes.

A guiding principle of the LSLR Collaborative is that lead service line (LSL) replacement program should consider and address barriers to participation so that people served by LSLs can benefit equitably, regardless of income, race, or ethnicity. Questions of equity surface at many points in the design of LSL replacement programs, including determining how replacements are funded, how to sequence replacement schedules, and how the program is communicated to community members.

Understanding these are important and complex questions, the LSLR Collaborative recently released a step-by-step guide communities can use to help consider and account for issues of equity when developing LSL replacement programs.  Read More »

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The Case of the Missing PFAS

By Lauren Ellis, MPH, Research Analyst, Environmental Health and Samantha Liskow, Lead Counsel, Health

NOTE: In a recent blog post, EDF called for EPA to revoke PFAS approved through the agency’s “low volume exemption” (an LVE is an exemption from a full safety review for new chemicals produced in quantities less than ~10 tons) and to instead require all PFAS to undergo a full safety review under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Last month, EDF and other groups, represented by Earthjustice, formally petitioned EPA to do just that.

What Happened: We recently discovered that EPA is withholding the names of over 100 PFAS chemicals approved as LVEs—claiming that releasing that information would reveal “confidential business information” (CBI).

Why It Matters: PFAS causes harm to both the environment and to human health—including reproductive, developmental, and cancer-related effects. Given growing concerns about the risks of PFAS, the public has the right to know if they are being exposed to PFAS, especially those approved through exemptions to EPA’s new chemical safety review process.

Our Take:

  • EPA should reveal the identities of the missing PFAS LVEs. If doing so would reveal CBI, EPA should work with PFAS manufacturers to craft a name that clearly communicates PFAS class membership.
  • EPA should require full safety review for all PFAS, including those previously approved through exemptions.

GO DEEPER… Read More »

Also posted in Industry Influence, Regulation / Tagged , , | Read 1 Response

Leveraging LSL replacement funding: Chicago Fed steps up

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals Initiative

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago serves Iowa and much of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin—areas of the country that likely have more LSLs than those served by any of the other 11 banks in the Federal Reserve System. Image source: Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

What Happened: On November 2, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago held a meeting of more than 50 stakeholders interested in new strategies to fund and finance lead service line (LSL) replacements. I attended, representing the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative.

Why It Matters:

  • The meeting was an important first gathering of its type to focus on helping:
  • Lead pipes represent the most significant source of lead in drinking water. Replacing the nation’s estimated 9 million LSLs is predicted to cost $45 billion.
  • Federal funds alone will not be enough to help states and communities eliminate this lead pipe legacy, municipal water utilities need to leverage federal funds by getting the lowest rates for bonds to finance their efforts.

Our Takeaway: EDF applauds Chicago Fed for its leadership in taking on this complicated but critical issue. The meeting advanced the discussion in a way that only a neutral party like the Chicago Fed can do.

Next Steps: Within days of the convening, I am already hearing from participants interested in making connections or learning more about the issue. Chicago Fed should continue these convenings and engage more stakeholders.

Go Deeper: In February 2022, staff at the Chicago Fed began to offer a series of excellent articles, videos, and case studies to explain the issue of lead pipes to their stakeholders. We recommend this interview with Margaret Bowman, a water expert with 30 years in the nongovernmental and philanthropy sectors, as she explains the financing needs and opportunities.

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