EDF Health

Selected tag(s): TSCA Modernization Act

CBS News covers a chemical’s tragic impact; points to urgent need to ban high-risk uses of methylene chloride

Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager.  

This morning, CBS News focused on the tragic story of Kevin Hartley—a young man who died at the age of 21 while working with a product that contains methylene chloride. Kevin’s story, powerfully relayed by his mother Wendy, illustrates the need to ban high-risk uses of this chemical.

As we have previously noted, in January, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to ban methylene chloride in paint and coating removal products. The agency based its proposal on an extensive assessment of the scientific literature, which demonstrated not only lethal risks from acute exposures to methylene chloride but also a host of other acute and chronic health impacts, like harm to the central nervous system, liver toxicity, and cancer.

Products containing this chemical can be readily found in most hardware stores in America and more tragedies are all but certain, if EPA does not promptly finalize its proposed ban.

The ongoing debates in Washington over the implementation of a new chemical safety law passed just last year are often dense and dry. In sharing her son Kevin’s story, Wendy Hartley reminds us that how these policies are applied has a very real human impact. That is why EDF continues to demand EPA better protect American families from toxic chemicals like the one highlighted by CBS News today.

Please watch the story: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dangers-of-common-paint-stripper-chemical-methylene-chloride/

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Playing fair: The need for parity in challenging EPA’s decisions on the safety of chemicals under TSCA

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

As Senate and House negotiators are working to reconcile their Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform bills, in addition to resolving the higher-profile issues, there is a need to pay attention to the important details.  This post gives one example of an issue that may seem esoteric, but goes to the core of how the new law would actually function and hence needs to be addressed.

Doesn’t it make sense that someone who believes EPA erred in determining that a chemical is safe be able to challenge that decision in a manner that is on par with a challenge of an EPA decision that a chemical is not safe?

Yet this parity is a feature only of the Senate’s TSCA reform legislation, not the House’s.  Here’s why:   Read More »

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Why significant but balanced changes are needed to TSCA’s new chemicals provisions

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

A key need for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is making enhancements to the law’s provisions addressing new chemicals prior to their commercial manufacture.  The Senate bill makes moderate but critical improvements to these provisions.

These improvements arose through extended negotiations that sought to carefully balance two legitimate competing interests:  On the one hand, ensuring that the safety of new chemicals is carefully examined and a reasonable assurance of safety is provided before market entry – which the current law does not provide.  On the other hand, ensuring an efficient short process is utilized that doesn’t unduly slow or create too high a bar for market entry or have the unintended consequence of impeding innovation – which the current law does provide.

That balance was struck through a set of provisions that:

  • require for the first time that EPA make an affirmative safety finding as a condition for market entry, but using a standard – that a new chemical is likely to meet the safety standard – that is lower than that applicable to existing chemicals undergoing full reviews;
  • maintain current TSCA’s typical 90-day review period for new chemicals, even shortening that period when EPA can make a positive safety determination more quickly;
  • ensure that new chemicals can’t enter the market when information is not sufficient to make an affirmative safety finding, while retaining TSCA’s lack of a requirement for a minimum up-front data set for new chemicals; and
  • require EPA to carefully consider the need to extend to other companies any conditions or restrictions it places on a company that first brings a chemical into commerce, and either do so or explain why that is not needed.

I believe that this compromise, while unlikely to please anyone completely, represents significant improvement over the status quo, retaining its positive features while addressing its shortcomings.

There is actually considerable support that has been voiced for this balanced approach, including from industry and from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as groups like my own.   Read More »

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EPA and business find much to like in Senate’s TSCA reform bill

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

In the last day, two news outlets, Politico (“Administration largely sides with Senate negotiators in TSCA talks”) and CQ (“On Toxic Chemical Bills, Administration Prefers Senate’s”), published articles about two letters recently issued on pending TSCA reform bills in the Senate and House. Both articles are well worth reading but are behind a paywall, so I’m providing a brief summary and links to the letters here for those without access to these Hill publications.

One letter was signed by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on behalf of the Administration.  It identifies provisions in each bill that EPA prefers or has concerns about, based on the Administration’s TSCA reform principles.

The other letter was drafted by the American Alliance for Innovation (AAI), a large coalition of business interests, which provides a list of its “conference priorities.”  (While it does not directly cite either bill, it identifies provisions AAI seeks to retain in or jettison from the final bill.)

These two letters are the latest in a series of comparisons of the two measures by interested parties, issued as House and Senate negotiators look to reconcile differences between them.  We have blogged previously on the preferences and concerns expressed by two groups of state authorities (links to their assessments are provided in that post).

While the documents differ with respect to the scope of issues they address, the common characteristic of all four is that each identifies significantly more provisions they prefer in the Senate bill’s more comprehensive approach, compared to House bill.

Of course the goal is to get to the best law possible. EDF is confident that legislators on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers of Congress, are working hard to reach agreement on a strong bill to send to the president. The opportunity has never been so near at hand, if Congress can just finish the job.

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State authorities weigh in on Senate and House TSCA reform bills

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

In recent weeks, two documents have been released by state government officials and organizations that take a deep dive into those aspects of the Senate and House bills to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) most relevant to them.  The documents explicitly point to specific provisions in one or both bills that are preferred or opposed.

The bills the documents compare are the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697), passed by the full Senate on December 17, 2015; and the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576), passed by the House of Representatives on June 23, 2015.

Here are the documents:

  • Environmental Council of the States (ECOS): An 11-page table dated January 7, 2016 posted in the “Featured” section of ECOS’ home page provides a side-by-side comparison of the two bills, focused mainly but not exclusively on state-federal relationship issues.  (Note that the preamble to the table indicates it does not represent a formal consensus, and many of the indications of preferences begin with a qualifier such as “Many states believe … .”)
  • 12 State AGs letter: A 7-page letter dated January 19, 2016 signed by the Attorneys General of 12 states (MA, CA, HI, IA, ME, MD, NH, NY, OR, RI, VT and WA) to the relevant Senate and House committee Chairmen and Ranking Members sets forth principles for state-federal relationships under TSCA reform and provides recommendations for reconciling those provisions of the Senate and House bills.

Both documents are well worth reading in their entireties.  To help me understand them, I have developed the table below that lists each specific provision identified in these documents for which a preference or opposition has been expressed or is readily discernible with respect to the Senate or House bill.   Read More »

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Will we take this best chance ever to fix the law that helped bring about DuPont’s PFOA debacle?

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

A remarkable exposé in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine documents the “brazen, decades-long” withholding by DuPont of mounting evidence of widespread exposure to and health effects from one of its signature chemicals (nicknamed PFOA) used in manufacture of its line of Teflon brand products.

The article is compelling in many respects, not the least of which is its scathing indictment of the federal laws that are supposed to protect Americans from toxic chemical exposures.  In particular, the article highlights the deep failures of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – now limping into its 40th year of existence without ever having been substantially amended.  TSCA is the law that – in principle – regulates most uses of PFOA and other so-called “industrial chemicals,” thousands of which are widely used in everyday consumer products and materials ranging from household cleaners to furniture to paint to electronics.

The article’s focus on TSCA is more than justified:  PFOA is one of 62,000 chemicals that were already on the market when TSCA passed in 1976.  All of these chemicals were “grandfathered” under the law, effectively presumed safe without any requirement that they be tested or reviewed for safety.  And while, as evidence of harm and widespread exposure mounted, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did conduct a review of PFOA (which more than a decade later is still only in draft form), its authority under TSCA is so weak that it has not even attempted to use that authority to restrict any uses of the chemical, instead having to negotiate a gradual voluntary phase-out.  Indeed, EPA hasn’t tried to regulate any existing chemical under TSCA since 1991, when a court threw out its regulation of the known killer asbestos, on the grounds that EPA had not met its burden of proof of harm under TSCA.

Not mentioned in the article, however, is that for the first time ever Congress is on the verge of finally reforming TSCA.  Reform bills have passed both the Senate and the House, and negotiations toward a final reconciled bill are expected to get underway any day now.

While no single law could by itself have prevented the tragic story of PFOA from unfolding, provisions of one or both bills would go a long way to help prevent such events from happening again.  Let me mention some of the most important:   Read More »

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