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dry cleaning

The New York Times reports that the EPA has relaxed standards for reviewing chemicals common in products such as shampoo, paint strippers, and dry-cleaning solvents. (Photo: Cpl. Isaac Martinez/U.S. Marine Corps)

Catering to Chemical Industry Demands, EPA Threatens Nation's Air and Water With 'Shameful' Curbing of Toxic Safety Rules

"Scott Pruitt isn't just the most corrupt EPA Administrator in history. His actions threaten the lives—and quality of life—for millions of Americans."

Jessica Corbett

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.

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.

"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.

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.

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."

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