By Jennifer Sass, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Trump-Pruitt Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a set of rules today that will make it easier to ignore chemical risks and disregard harmful exposures. The final rules introduce loopholes that could allow EPA to ignore important exposure routes and chemical product uses. This opens the door for EPA to disregard exposures to the most vulnerable and susceptible populations such as pregnant women and children or highly-exposed workers, which the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA) had sought to protect.
These are the first rules released since a Chemical Industry lobbyist took charge of the EPA toxics office and its process for evaluating toxic chemicals.
The rules finalized today describe how EPA will evaluate the health threats from chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The prioritization rule codifies the general process by which EPA will sort chemicals into “high priority” and “low priority” buckets. High priority chemicals will move forward into the risk evaluation process, while low priority chemicals will not (though the classification can change based on new evidence). The risk evaluation rule codifies the general process by which EPA will assess a chemical’s hazards and exposures, then determine if the chemical poses an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment.
The draft version of these rules were the result extensive public consultation that including chemical industry manufacturers, retailers, health impacted groups, medical professionals, and public interest groups. They had bipartisan support from Congress and the Obama White House and were applauded by health experts for creating a rigorous process to identify and control harmful exposures to toxic chemicals linked to significant health threats link cancer, reproductive disease, and learning disabilities.
Unfortunately, the versions released today have been extensively tampered with outside of the public view by the Trump-Pruitt EPA with Nancy Beck at the helm of the agency’s toxics program—recently rotated in from the industry trade group the American Chemistry Council (ACC).
A report in POLITICO noted that Nancy Beck had been “very involved” with these rules since moving from the chemical industry ACC to the EPA, and that she did not recuse herself because the rules are “matters of general applicability”. Moreover, Beck was cleared to talk with her recent past employer, ACC, about the rules (Politico 6/21/2017 by Annie Snider and Alex Guillen).
Concerns about Beck’s obvious industry bias and conflicts of interest regarding her involvement in TSCA rules were raised by Representative Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (D-NJ). Beck now serves as EPA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), and oversees finalizing the TSCA rules that she had lobbied on while at ACC. Rep. Pallone noted that, “the role she appears to be playing in finalizing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) framework rules threaten the success of the TSCA Reform legislation passed last year”. It seems that the threat has become a reality.
Sadly, the new rules on prioritization and risk evaluation have been weakened and are now much more favorable to the chemical industry than the versions agreed upon through the public consultation process.
The science is clear: exposures to toxic chemicals in the products we use every day are harming our health and contributing to disease. These rules will favor the continued use of chemicals that should be taken off the market. We will continue to hold EPA accountable to its job to protect public health.