I can’t count the number of times I’ve said that the 2016 reform of the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stronger tools to protect our health from dangerous chemicals. Unfortunately, even the best tools are of no help if they are left on the shelf or out to rust in the rain, and that is exactly what has happened in the past four years.
It was encouraging to see that one of President Biden’s first executive orders directed EPA to review a number of TSCA-related actions by the Trump EPA.
While the Biden administration has much to do to right the ship, here are three items we are glad to see on their “Build Back Better” list:
1) Methylene chloride is one of the highest-profile failures by the EPA to use its stronger authority to protect public health from a dangerous chemical. Before the 2016 legislation was passed, EPA had completed an evaluation that led them to propose a ban on paint strippers containing the chemical. At least 85 people have lost their lives using these products since 1980; many more have suffered from well documented chronic health effects. Still, after meeting with the families of three young men who lost their lives after the ban was first proposed and then shelved by the EPA, former administrator Andrew Wheeler finalized a ban only on consumer uses, allowing commercial-use exposures to continue to endanger tens of thousands in the workplace.
The EPA should protect us all from these dangerous products. You can follow this link and tell them so.
2) Persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals were specifically targeted in the 2016 law for their unique threats to public health and the environment. Because they do not break down in the environment and do build up in the food chain, including in the human body, they are a priority public health threat. Indeed, the widespread harm caused by Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) chemicals is only the latest example of the consequences of not restricting PBTs before they become pervasive in the economy.
The executive order requires another look at the five PBT chemicals that EPA has developed rules on.1 Under the law, EPA is required to go straight to the question of how to eliminate exposure to these chemicals. When the rule was proposed, we urged the Trump EPA to fundamentally rework their proposed rule to comply with the law and achieve the significant reductions in exposure to PBT chemicals that Congress required, but it failed to make that revision.
3) Chemical risk evaluation procedures: Working with colleagues in the environmental health community, we filed and won our very first lawsuit (Safer Chemicals, et al v. EPA) to require EPA to comply with TSCA and consider all conditions of use when evaluating a chemical. Not only did the Trump EPA’s draft risk evaluations contain inexcusable lapses in good science, but they excluded sources of exposure, such as drinking water contamination, air emissions, legacy uses, and use of personal care products, that are harmful to health and the environment and need to be restricted under the law.
This was glaringly apparent in the final evaluation for asbestos and could have irreparable effects on public health protections from this substance that continues to claim thousands of lives each year. The Trump EPA promised a supplemental evaluation to fix the failures of its work, but never even set a timeline for doing so. So, we joined our allies at Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, the American Public Health Association and others in filing a lawsuit to require that they do so.
By prioritizing these items, the Biden EPA will be on track toward protecting the American people using the tools of reformed TSCA.
- 1Decabromodiphenyl ethers (DecaBDE);
- Hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD);
- Pentachlorothiophenol (PCTP);
- Phenol, isopropylated, phosphate (3:1) (PIP (3:1)); and
- 2,4,6-Tris(tert-butyl) phenol (2,4,6-TTBP)