Recently obtained documents from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the New York Times reveal that the EPA is drastically reducing the ways that it monitors and assesses potential health and safety risks related to the use of scores of chemicals, especially those most dangerous. Perchloroethylene, as well as multiple other known human carcinogens* that are used in consumer products and come in contact with workers in various industries, will now be less monitored and assessed for safety risks as this document shows. The change in procedure, a boon to the chemical industry, came as a result of intense lobbying from industry groups like the American Chemistry Council.
Under the Obama Administration, the EPA was required to review hundreds of chemicals to determine if they required increased monitoring and scrutiny based on our understanding that they were harmful to human health. But as the EPA moves forward under Pruitt and Trump, the EPA will not review any effects these chemicals have nor any dangers to exposure to them by their presence in air, water or soil.
Unfortunately this change away from regulation of dangerous chemicals comes as no surprise: Nancy B. Beck, Trump’s appointee to oversee the toxic chemicals unit of EPA, was the Senior Director of Regulatory Science Policy for The American Chemistry Council. During the Obama Administration Beck pushed on behalf of industry to narrow EPA’s jurisdiction and power over these substances. Beck declined to comment to the New York Times. Another industry insider, Erik Baptist, former lawyer for the American Petroleum Institute is also assisting with the “oversight” of the new risk evaluation.
EPA’s new industry friendly approach has come under significant fire. Robert M. Sussman, who now works as a consultant to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, an advocacy group, was a former chemical industry lawyer and EPA official. Sussman was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “They don’t want to open Pandora’s Box by looking comprehensively at the risk, as they may prove to be significant and then they have to deal with it.” A group of senators, including Tom Udall and Frank Pallone Jr. who were instrumental in passing the 2016 law under the Obama Administration are outraged. As quoted by the New York Times Udall said: “Congress worked hard in bipartisan fashion to reform our nation’s broken chemical safety laws, but Pruitt’s E.P.A. is failing to put the new law to use as intended”.
“It is ridiculous,” said Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, who retired last year after nearly four decades at the E.P.A., where she ran the toxic chemical unit during her last year. “You can’t determine if there is an unreasonable risk without doing a comprehensive risk evaluation.”
For more on the Pruitt’s continued attack on the EPA and its ability to protect human health, please see the materials below.
*The list was scrubbed from the EPA website sometime after Scott Pruitt became administrator. The toxic chemicals on the list are described in the NY Times Article “EPA’s Top 10 Toxic Threats” linked above.