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Selected tag(s): New chemicals

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 EPA, Industry Influence, PFAS, Public Health, TSCA, Uncategorized / Also tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, Public Health, TSCA Reform / Also tagged , , | Read 3 Responses

EPA’s new Collaborative Research Program – A step toward improving new chemical reviews under TSCA

Maria Doa, Ph.D., Senior Director, Chemicals Policy; Lauren Ellis, MPH, Research Analyst; and Lariah Edwards, Ph.D., Post-Doctoral Fellow 

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) recently filed comments on EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Collaborative Research Program to Support New Chemical Reviews (Collaborative Research Program). The Collaborative Research Program is a multi-year scientific partnership between the agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) and Office of Research and Development (ORD) aimed at modernizing the methods, approaches, and tools used to evaluate new chemicals under TSCA.  

We strongly support OPPT’s collaboration with ORD, which has a breadth of scientific expertise across EPA’s different research programs. As such, ORD will help OPPT implement the best available science in its new chemical assessments, which should ultimately prevent risky chemicals from entering the marketplace. We urge OPPT to use this opportunity – and ORD’s expertise – to improve and expand its consideration of new chemical impacts to frontline communities, the risks new chemicals may pose throughout their entire life cycle, as well as cumulative risks from chemicals that may cause similar health effects. 

Below we outline the five proposed research areas for new chemicals under the Collaborative Research Program and our comments on each. All five can have an important impact on EPA’s new chemical assessments and consequently on EPA’s determination on whether a new chemical is expected to present an unreasonable risk.  Read More »

Posted in EPA, TSCA Reform / Tagged | Comments are closed

EPA’s Significant New Use Rules under TSCA must reflect its policy goals

Lauren Ellis, Research Analyst, Environmental Health 

We recently submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on a subset of proposed Significant New Use Rules (SNURs) published by the New Chemicals program under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). We commend EPA for issuing these proposed SNURs. Our review of some of the SNURs, however, raised concerns about chemical releases to the environment, risks to consumers, and the absence of worker protections. We believe EPA can address many of these concerns by following through on its stated policy goals. 

For all the chemicals in this batch, EPA had previously issued “consent orders” – which impose restrictions on a new chemical – because the agency found at the time of their initial review for market entry that the chemical substances may present an unreasonable risk to health or the environment. We strongly support EPA’s use of SNURs to follow up on consent orders it issues, as a consent order only applies to the original company that submitted a premanufacture notice (PMN) to EPA to domestically manufacture or import a new chemical. 

A SNUR is a separate action that requires any company seeking to engage in a “significant new use” identified in the SNUR to notify EPA at least 90 days before beginning that use, triggering EPA’s review of the potential new use. For new chemicals that received orders, a SNUR can conform to the order – meaning it mirrors the conditions in the consent order for the chemical – or it can apply more broadly to activities or uses that are beyond the scope of the consent order. Either way, SNURs enable the agency to review potentially risky uses prior to their commencement. 

In our comments, we call for four major changes to a subset of the proposed SNURs: 

Read More »

Posted in EPA, PFAS, TSCA Reform / Also tagged , | Comments are closed

Loosening industry’s grip on EPA’s new chemicals program

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

[I delivered a shorter version of these comments at the September 22, 2021 webinar titled “Hair on Fire and Yes Packages! How the Biden Administration Can Reverse the Chemical Industry’s Undue Influence,” cosponsored by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), NH Safe Water Alliance, and EDF.  A recording of the webinar will shortly be available here.  The webinar, second in a series, follows on EPA whistleblower disclosures first appearing in a complaint filed by PEER that are detailed in a series of articles by Sharon Lerner in The Intercept.]

The insularity of the New Chemicals Program – where staff only interact with industry and there is no real engagement with other stakeholders – spawns and perpetuates these industry-friendly and un-health-protective policies.

I have closely tracked the Environmental Protection Agency’s New Chemicals Program for many years.  Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that the program does not serve the agency’s mission and the public interest, but rather the interests of the chemical industry.  Despite the major reforms Congress made to the program in 2016 when it overhauled the Toxic Substances Control Act, the New Chemicals Program is so badly broken that nothing less than a total reset can fix the problems.

Revelations emerging through responses Environmental Defense Fund finally received to a FOIA request we made two years ago, and through the disclosures of courageous whistleblowers who did or still work in the New Chemicals Program, confirm what I have long suspected, looking in from the outside.  The program:

  • uses practices that allow the chemical industry to easily access and hold sway over EPA reviews and decisions on the chemicals they seek to bring to market;
  • has developed a deeply embedded culture of secrecy that blocks public scrutiny and accountability;
  • employs policies – often unwritten – that undermine Congress’ major reforms to the law and reflect only industry viewpoints; and
  • operates through a management system and managers, some still in place, that regularly prioritize industry’s demands for quick decisions that allow their new chemicals onto the market with no restrictions, over reliance on the best science and protection of public and worker health.

Many of the worst abuses coming to light took place during the Trump administration, and it is tempting to believe the change in administrations has fixed the problems.  It has not.  The damaging practices, culture, policies and management systems predate the last administration and laid the foundation for the abuses.  Highly problematic decisions continue to be made even in recent weeks.

I am encouraged by recent statements and actions of Dr. Michal Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator of the EPA office that oversees TSCA implementation.  They clearly are moves in the right direction.  But it is essential that the deep-rooted, systemic nature of the problem be forthrightly acknowledged and forcefully addressed.

Let me provide some examples of each of the problems I just noted.  Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence, PFAS, Public Health, Regulation, TSCA Reform, Worker Safety / Also tagged | Comments are closed

Whistleblower revelations about EPA TSCA new chemical reviews

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

[I delivered these comments at the July 28, 2021 webinar titled “Toxic Chemicals, Whistleblowers, and the Need for Reform at EPA
cosponso
red by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), NY PIRG, and EDF.  [A recording of the webinar is available here.]  The webinar followed on whistleblower disclosures in a complaint filed by PEER and the first in what will be a series of articles by Sharon Lerner in The Intercept detailing the allegations.]

I have long described the EPA new chemicals program as a “black box.”  For decades, it has operated almost entirely out of public view, in multiple respects:

  • Excessive confidentiality claims and withholding of information from the public have been standard operating procedures.
  • A purely bilateral mode of operating developed, where the only parties in the room are EPA and the chemical industry.
  • The inability of the public to access information and meaningfully participate has severely limited public input and scrutiny.
  • As a result, a highly insular, almost secretive program culture arose over time, one where EPA has often viewed its only stakeholders to be the companies seeking quick approval of their new chemicals.
  • In sum, private interests trumped public interests.

TSCA reform sought to address key problems

The 2016 amendments to TSCA significantly overhauled the new chemicals provisions of the then-40-year-old law, seeking to rebalance those interests to some extent:

  • EPA for the first time is required to make a safety finding for each new chemical and explain the scientific basis for its finding.
  • Lack of sufficient information in and of itself is grounds for restricting a chemical and/or requiring testing. Before, unless EPA had enough data to show potential risk, it simply dropped the chemical from further review and allowed it onto the market.
  • Companies’ ability to simply assert their submissions are confidential has been reined in in several ways.

To be sure, the amendments did not address all of the program’s problems.  For example, despite the fact that the vast majority of new chemicals lack basic safety data, requiring companies to provide a minimum set of information – as many other countries do for new chemicals – was a bridge too far in the face of massive industry opposition.  The revelations indicate this is still a big problem:  Despite TSCA’s mandate that EPA restrict or require testing of chemicals lacking sufficient information, that has not been happening.  EPA still excessively relies on estimating a new chemical’s potential risks using models and extrapolations of data from other chemicals – approaches that have serious limitations, introduce large uncertainties, and are themselves a black box.

Enter the Trump EPA – the damage done

Immediately after the 2016 reforms, there were signs that EPA was starting down a better path.  But under the last Administration that progress was quickly reversed and the worst features of the pre-reform program came roaring back.  Indeed, where the program ended up was worse than before TSCA reform.  Clearly, the new revelations vividly show that – and how far we have to go, both in implementing the reforms and in changing the disturbing culture that still pervades the program.  What strikes me about the whistleblowers’ allegations is that they all cut in industry’s favor, removing or downplaying risks the scientists had flagged.  This argues against these simply being cases of scientific disagreement and points to a systemic problem.  Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence, TSCA Reform, Worker Safety / Also tagged , , | Read 3 Responses