In yet another case of the Trump administration delivering a dangerous blow to public health protections by catering to the chemical industry's demands, the New York Times reports that the Environmental Protection Agency is scaling back how it evaluates the safety risks of potentially toxic substances.
TOXIC? You may never have heard of perchloroethylene, a colorless liquid, with sweet, fruity odor used at many dry cleaners in United States. CDC says strong evidence it can cause cancer. EPA just revamped how it will evaluate its toxicity. https://t.co/8kwIktngMd
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) June 8, 2018
Citing some 1,500 documents recently released by the agency, Times reporter Eric Lipton explains:
Under a law passed by Congress during the final year of the Obama administration, the EPA was required for the first time to evaluate hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals and determine if they should face new restrictions, or even be removed from the market. The chemicals include many in everyday use, such as dry-cleaning solvents, paint strippers, and substances used in health and beauty products like shampoos and cosmetics.
But as it moves forward reviewing the first batch of 10 chemicals, the EPA has in most cases decided to exclude from its calculations any potential exposure caused by the substances' presence in the air, the ground, or water. ...Instead, the agency will focus on possible harm caused by direct contact with a chemical in the workplace or elsewhere. The approach means that the improper disposal of chemicals—leading to the contamination of drinking water, for instance—will often not be a factor in deciding whether to restrict or ban them.
"This decision is shameful, outrageous," tweeted Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.
EPA to wear blinders, ignoring 68Million pounds of toxic chemical pollution when evaluating chemical risk, including 21Million pounds of asbestos fibers. More than ridiculous, this decision is shameful, outrageous. https://t.co/Yx5ye9xQ0o
— Fred Krupp (@FredKrupp) June 8, 2018
Shame on @EPA & @EPAScottPruitt for easing up on chemical regulations - This is a shameful action that benefits corporations and threatens the air we breathe and the water we drink. #BootPruitt https://t.co/Wiq3Wr6b14
— Food & Water Watch (@foodandwater) June 8, 2018
"It is ridiculous," Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, who spent nearly four decades at the agency and previously ran the toxic chemical unit, told the Times. "You can't determine if there is an unreasonable risk without doing a comprehensive risk evaluation."
The nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which runs the money-in-politics resource Open Secrets, pointed out that Nancy B. Beck—a Trump-appointed top deputy for the toxic chemical unit about whom Lipton produced a damning report last year—was previously an executive at the chemical industry's main trade association.
Lobbying by the chemical industry is followed by a scale-back in the way EPA determines health and safety risks of chemicals. #Trump appointee overseeing toxic chemical unit was previously an executive at the American Chemistry Council - #RevolvingDoor https://t.co/OroQ17LFNM
— OpenSecrets.org (@OpenSecretsDC) June 8, 2018
In addition to limiting how the EPA analyzes substances that could harm public health at the behest of industry lobbyists, the documents reveal that the agency has also narrowed "the definitions of certain chemicals, including asbestos. Some asbestos-like fibers will not be included in the risk assessments, one agency staff member said, nor will the 8.8 million pounds a year of asbestos deposited in hazardous landfills or the 13.1 million pounds discarded in routine dump sites."
In light of Lipton's report, journalists and environmental advocates alike noted that EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's mounting scandals—involving everything from a shady condo rental and a used hotel mattress to Ritz-Carlton moisturizer and Chick-fil-A—are distracting from the industry-friendly deregulatory agenda he is advancing at the agency.
The constant swirl of scandals engulfing @EPAScottPruitt is obscuring the serious deregulation his @EPA is overseeing, including scaling back the way government determines health & safety risks associated with the most dangerous chemicals on the market. https://t.co/7TQWVbarrT
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) June 8, 2018
This should be treated as more of a scandal than everything else happening in Pruitt's orbit. Under Pruitt the EPA is making it easier for dangerous chemicals to poison our air and water. https://t.co/wdxPiCmHkB
— Tyler Creighton (@tylercreighton) June 8, 2018
As Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune concluded, in addition to Pruitt's apparent corruption and conflicts of interest, "his actions threaten the lives—and quality of life—for millions of Americans."