Dear Congress: EPA's TSCA Implementation Has Gone Awry

by Katie Tracy

October 19, 2017

Individuals across the United States encounter hundreds of chemical substances every day and often simultaneously – in common household and hygiene products, in our food and drinking water, and in our air. Some of these chemicals present serious risks to our health and the environment and a heightened risk of harm for children, pregnant women, the elderly, and individuals with compromised immune systems. To this day, we are largely unprotected from all manner of chemical exposures, including chemicals widely known to be lethal and for which there is no safe level. 

In 2016, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act to address this problem head on by revising the weak Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and directing EPA to establish a comprehensive framework for evaluating chemicals and regulating those that pose unreasonable health and environmental risks. Before President Obama's second term ended, his EPA proposed rules to implement the statute in accordance with the new law. However, shortly after President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, EPA reversed its approach to TSCA implementation and finalized controversial and legally indefensible regulations that allow unreasonable health and environmental risks to continue unabated. 

Today, I joined nine CPR Member Scholars in a letter to key members of Congress, calling on them to exercise their oversight authority over EPA and its implementation of TSCA. In the letter, we write: 

To genuinely protect people from adverse health effects due to toxic chemical exposures, EPA must take people as they find them. In other words, the agency must consider all exposures and then determine the risk of additional exposure before deciding what action, if any, is necessary to reduce or eliminate that risk. But EPA ignored this principle in its final risk evaluation rule. Instead, the agency announced that it will exclude certain ongoing uses and disposals of chemical substances from its risk evaluations, resting its decision on an erroneous and unlawful interpretation of the term "conditions of use." EPA has since relied on this legally flawed interpretation to limit the scope of the risk evaluations for the first ten chemicals it has identified for review. 

As members of House and Senate committees with oversight over EPA and TSCA implementation, and as sponsors, co-sponsors, and supporters of the 2016 TSCA amendments, you are instrumental to ensuring that EPA's implementation of TSCA reflects congressional intent to safeguard the public's health and the environment from unreasonable chemical risks. Petitions have recently been filed challenging EPA's final prioritization and risk evaluation rules. We ask you to urge EPA to take immediate corrective action by returning to the correct interpretation set forth in the proposed risk evaluation rule and by correcting the scoping documents for the first ten chemicals under review. The interpretation from EPA's proposal is firmly grounded in the language of the amendments to TSCA and its legislative history and better serves the statute's purpose of protecting our health and environment from the unreasonable risks posed by toxic chemicals. 

Read the full letter on the CPR website.

Tagged as: TSCA EPA
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Katie Tracy, J.D., joined CPR as a workers’ rights policy analyst in May 2015. Her previous experience includes working for more than two years as a regulatory policy analyst at the Center for Effective Government, where she advocated for strong regulations to protect health, safety, and the environment.

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