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a worker at a dry cleaner in San Francisco

A worker at Sohn's French Cleaners, which uses eco-friendly chemicals to dry clean clothes, sorts freshly pressed shirts January 29, 2007 in San Francisco. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

EPA's First New Air Pollutant Addition in 30 Years Reveals Agency Failings: Critics

"This isn't proof that our environmental laws are working," said one public health advocate. "It's proof that they aren't."

Andrea Germanos

The Environmental Protection Agency announced this week the addition—for the first time in over three decades—of a new substance to its list of hazardous air pollutants.

The chemical compound called 1-Bromopropane or 1-BP—used in dry cleaning and automobile care products and linked to cancer and other adverse human health impacts—is now among 188 pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde, and methanol on the list established in 1990 under the Clean Air Act.

"In 2007, tests were complete, showing 1-BP is a potent carcinogen and causes neurological damage."

The final rule was published Wednesday at the Federal Register and is set to take effect next month.

Earthjustice attorney Tosh Sagar welcomed the development as "a historic first: the first new HAP in over 30 years, ensuring that communities across the country will be protected from the widespread use of this toxic chemical."

“But EPA can't let this first be the last," Sagar said in his statement in which he pointed to "a number of obvious toxic air pollutants that need to be regulated—such as PFAS—and EPA should move swiftly to protect the public from the full range of air toxics."

In its 2020 final risk evaluation on 1-BP, the EPA found that the compound posed unreasonable risks to human health. Also that year, Earthjustice, on behalf of groups including Sierra Club, sued the Trump administration to compel inclusion of 1-BP to the HAP list.

That filing that came three years after Earthjustice told former President Donald Trump's EPA that the compound's "scientific record" makes clear 1-BP "is a reproductive toxicant, carcinogen, and a cause of neurological harm and related chronic health problems including depression," and that any of those effects alone requires the EPA to add the chemical to the list.

Adam Finkel, a former director of health standards programs at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), wrote in a Twitter thread Wednesday that the update reflected "the wheels of 'progress'" and referenced his owns efforts beginning over 20 years ago to protect public health from the compound.

"In 1999," wrote Finkel, "I petitioned on behalf of OSHA that the National Toxicology Program should test a newly-marketed solvent called 1-bromopropane, to see if (as expected by its structure) it would cause cancer in lab animals."

"In 2007, tests were complete, showing 1-BP is a potent carcinogen and causes neurological damage," he continued, pointing to the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance and state of New York's 2011 petition to the EPA to add the solvent to the HAP list.

“I hate the term no-brainer, but this is a no-brainer,” Finkel told the Washington Post. "It's a toxic air pollutant, so it belongs on the list of toxic air pollutants."

In a Thursday tweet sharing the Post's reporting, Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook also suggested the list addition was long-needed.

"This isn't proof that our environmental laws are working," he said. "It's proof that they aren't."

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