EPA limiting evaluation of chemical risks

Article by Amanda Doyle

Under the new revision, the EPA will no longer consider the risks of asbestos in landfills or old building materials

THE US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has revised how it determines risks associated with chemicals and will now only consider the risks of direct exposure, and not any potential exposure due to a substance being in the air, ground, or water.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was amended in 2016 under the Obama administration, making it mandatory for the EPA to perform safety checks on hundreds of potentially dangerous chemicals, including those used in everyday consumer products such as shampoos. The overhaul was the first change to the TSCA in 40 years.

The EPA is currently reviewing ten substances, but a report by The New York Times has revealed that the EPA is narrowing the scope of its safety assessments under pressure from the Trump administration and chemical industries.  

The EPA maintains that other laws such as the Clean Air Act already regulate chemicals in the air and water and a spokesperson for the EPA told The New York Times that the EPA can “better protect human health and the environment by focussing on those pathways that are likely to represent the greatest areas of concern to EPA.”

The revision means that improper disposal of a chemical will not be considered when deciding on any potential restrictions or ban of a substance. The list of ten substances currently under review include perchloroethylene, which is commonly used as a dry cleaning solvent. Under the new rules, the EPA will only consider the effects of direct exposure to perchloroethylene – which likely has carcinogenic properties – but will not evaluate the effects of exposure via drinking water despite that fact that traces of it have been found in most states. Asbestos is also on the list, but now risk evaluations will not view asbestos dumped in landfills as a potential hazard.

“With these exclusions, it is clear that the EPA will fail to evaluate the full risk of asbestos,” said Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation. “The end result will be a seriously inadequate risk evaluation that fails to address major contributors to the heavy and growing toll of asbestos mortality and disease in the United States, and represents an irresponsible and unjust rollback of the recent TSCA reform legislation.”

An analysis by the Environmental Defence Fund showed that the EPA will neglect the 31m kg of seven of the ten chemicals that are released into the air, water, and soil every year.

A statement from the American Chemistry Council said:

“The release of the problem formulation documents for the first 10 chemicals for risk evaluation is another important milestone in the implementation of the 2016 TSCA amendments. We will continue to support the efficient and effective implementation of TSCA. Successful implementation of this important bipartisan legislation is essential to ensuring protections for human health and environment while enabling our industry to continue to innovate, create jobs and grow the economy.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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