A Striking About-Face on EPA's Progress in Protecting Us from Chemical Hazards

by Matt Shudtz

August is the time for back-to-school shopping, leading parents everywhere on the search for the best deals to fill our kids' backpacks. When that search ends at bargain outlets and dollar stores, though, there is a hidden cost many may not be aware of: the health burden from toxic chemicals in cheap consumer goods. Our chemical safety laws do not do enough to protect our children and families, so public health advocates like the Campaign for Healthier Solutions are putting pressure directly on the retailers to ensure the products on their shelves are safe for their customers.

Looking at the recently released regulatory agenda for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), it is clear that any progress toward protecting people from the hazards of toxic chemicals that surround us will have to come from similar grassroots campaigns as long as President Trump keeps stacking EPA with appointees with deep ties to the chemical industry.

The chart below summarizes the state of play at OCSPP. Bottom line: the office is in a deep freeze, with nearly all actions delayed, save for a few items that are obvious handouts to favored industries. What's striking about this list is the degree to which regulatory delay and shifting priorities undermine a core function of toxic chemical regulation – protecting people from the hazards that can cost them dearly in terms of health, well-being, and the ability to earn a living.

EPA has put the brakes on nearly every effort to address chemical hazards that was deemed a priority in recent years and has done so without identifying any other hazards that might be of more concern to the new administration. Shifting priorities with new leadership is one thing, but the agenda summarized below reveals a lack of leadership at best, and a reactionary anti-Obama agenda at worst. Here are some of the most glaring problems:

Formaldehyde: Hurricane Katrina laid bare many ways the federal regulatory system failed in its function as a mitigator of social inequality – from the Army Corps of Engineers' failed levees to FEMA's toxic trailers, the poorest residents of New Orleans learned first-hand how federal programs that don't work right can exacerbate social and economic inequality. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota came to the Senate determined to stop at least one of these problems right away. She found bipartisan support for legislation that would reduce or eliminate formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products like plywood, MDF, and particleboard. President Obama signed the bill into law in July 2010, and by December 2016, his EPA had finalized the rules that would ensure the law had teeth and would protect people against the risk of cancer, more severe asthma symptoms for kids, and more. But now Trump's EPA is delaying the effective dates for emissions standards and other aspects of the rules while simultaneously rushing to provide "labeling relief" for manufacturers.

Lead paint: Hundreds of thousands of families across the United States live in homes that predate the 1978 ban on lead paint. Their children and others also spend time in public and commercial buildings from that era. EPA has set standards – weak ones, to be sure – regarding residential remodeling, renovation, and repair efforts that might expose kids to lead-tainted dust. But the agency has yet to address the threats posed by lead-tainted dust in commercial and public buildings. EPA's latest regulatory agenda has put efforts to address all of these problems on the back burner and narrowed its focus in reviewing the residential standards to impacts on small businesses, rather than the families who live in the homes.

Pesticides: Scott Pruitt stomped on an effort to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which the American Academy of Pediatrics has described as being at the center of "a wealth of science demonstrating detrimental effects … to developing fetuses, infants, children and pregnant women." His action defied the recommendations of EPA's science advisors, but no doubt brought joy to the heart of the Andrew Liveris, an influential advisor to the Trump administration on regulations and the CEO of Dow Chemical, the company that manufactures the stuff. As dangerous as that decision is, it is limited to one pesticide. But the regulatory agenda for OCSPP shows that Pruitt's team is delaying a variety of rules that would ensure pesticides are applied properly, by trained and certified experts, and that the companies that make the pesticides properly label them and share information about hazards as that information becomes available. Once again, the big-picture view here is walking away from protections for people while protecting corporate profits.

Solvents: Over the last few years, EPA's chemical safety experts were prioritizing review of various chemicals used to clean greasy tools; strip paints, stains, and varnishes; and even remove stains from dry cleaning. For the first time in many years, the agency had even proposed banning certain uses of the most dangerous chemicals, like trichloroethylene (TCE) and methylene chloride (MC), using the Toxic Substances Control Act's (TSCA) rarely used Section 6. But now all of that is on hold, and it is unclear what chemical hazards EPA might be focusing on instead.

Public information: To help identify chemical risks (and, cynically, in tacit recognition of the fact that EPA and other government agencies will never have the resources to comprehensively address chemical risks to communities), a number of programs exist that are designed to give agencies and the public access to information about chemical manufacture, use, release into the environment, and human health hazards. On its own initiative and as a result from pressure by environmental and community groups, EPA was pursuing rules that would expand public access to that kind of information, at least until Trump's team came on the scene. They have delayed more than a dozen rules that would have brought information out of chemical companies' databases and into the public sphere.

Now ask yourself: Whose homes are built with inexpensive flooring? Who spends the most time in buildings that have not been renovated since lead paint was banned? Who is spraying pesticides on crops or working near where pesticides are sprayed? Who is stripping paint from bathtubs, refinishing furniture, and cleaning greasy tools on a daily basis?

EPA's agenda for toxics regulation abandons the most vulnerable members of our society and shifts focus instead to reducing alleged burdens on companies that have to provide basic information about the chemicals they manufacture or use, and how those chemicals might end up in consumer products or in our environment. Put simply, this regulatory agenda represents a drastic shift from a strategy focused on lifting people up, to a strategy focused on limiting corporate operating costs. In a matter of months, Trump and his team have upended a vital EPA function and adopted an agenda that turns EPA into a driver of social inequality, rather than part of the solution to that vexing problem.

 

EPA RULES IN PLAY
Rule Name Summary of EPA's Plans
Labeling Relief; Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products EPA has begun the process of changing labeling requirements for plywood and other composite wood products that contain formaldehyde.
Compliance Date Extension; Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products EPA is delaying by three months the effective dates of formaldehyde emissions standards, recordkeeping requirements, labeling rules, certification requirements, and other provisions related to plywood and other composite wood products.
Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products [see above]
Voluntary Consensus Standards Update; Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products EPA has begun the process of changing references to voluntary consensus standards related to formaldehyde in plywood and other composite wood products.
Section 610 Review of Lead-Based Paint Activities; Training and Certification for Renovation and Remodeling Section 402(c)(3) EPA is delaying by 15 months its review of the rules governing training and certification of people and firms in the business of removing dangerous lead paint from homes. At the same time, EPA is narrowing its review to focus on small business impacts instead of a variety of other issues raised by the Obama administration.
Pesticides; Certification of Pesticide Applicators EPA is delaying by an indeterminate amount of time the effective date of rules governing training, certification, and minimum age requirements for people who apply pesticides to crops across the United States.
Extension of Compliance Date(s); Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (40 CFR Part 170) EPA is delaying by an indeterminate amount of time the effective date of many worker-protection standards for pesticide workers. This is in response to a petition from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, which have failed to establish training and compliance assistance programs since the Obama administration updated these rules in November 2015.
Pesticides; Procedural Rule Amendment; Requirement for Certain Pesticide Actions to Publish Notices in the Federal Register EPA is delaying by five months an effort to communicate news about pesticide registrations and exemptions through its website instead of relying on Federal Register notices.
Procedural Rule to Remove Obsolete Information EPA is delaying by 14 months an effort to remove or replace obsolete and outdated information from its pesticide regulations.
Pesticides; Technical Amendments to Data Requirements EPA is delaying by five months and narrowing the scope of an effort to streamline and clarify existing data requirements for registering pesticides. The agency no longer intends to do a full edit of regulatory text that was prompting many inquiries, and instead will focus only on a single revision agreed upon in a settlement with the American Chemistry Council.
N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) and Methylene Chloride; Rulemaking Under TSCA Section 6(a) EPA is not projecting when it will finalize rules proposed by the Obama administration to protect workers and consumers from risks posed by chemical paint strippers. The latest update simply emphasizes that additional information is needed and a separate rulemaking will be initiated to address the specific case of the commercial furniture refinishing industry.
Trichloroethylene (TCE); Rulemaking Under TSCA Section 6(a); Vapor Degreasing EPA is not projecting when it will finalize a rule proposed by the Obama administration to protect workers and consumers from risks posed by vapor degreasing with tricholorethylene (TCE), which causes cancer, birth defects, and more. The number of firms using the chemical in this way is decreasing as evidence of its hazards mounts, but EPA rules would ensure broad protection.
Long-Chain Perfluoroalkyl Carboxylate and Perfluoroalkyl Sulfonate Chemical Substances; Significant New Use Rule EPA is delaying by 15 months a set of rules intended to protect the public from chemicals like PFOA (used to manufacture Teflon and implicated in major public health threats like cancer). The rules bolster a partnership between EPA and companies that make these chemicals, which agreed to phase them out by the end of 2015.
Significant New Use Rule for Toluene Diisocyanates (TDI) and Related Compounds EPA is delaying by seven months a rule that will essentially ban use of toluene diisocyanates (TDI) in consumer products. TDI is the primary cause of work-related asthma and has been identified by the International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) as possibly carcinogenic to humans.
TSCA Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements; Standards for Small Manufacturers and Processors EPA has begun collecting public input, as required by the 2016 Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, to define what it means to be a small business for purposes of various TSCA reporting and recordkeeping rules. Small chemical manufacturers and processors are exempt from many TSCA reporting and recordkeeping requirements. If EPA, in consultation with the Small Business Administration and based on public comment, determines a change to the standard is warranted, a new rulemaking process will commence.
Microorganisms: General Exemptions From Reporting Requirements; Revisions of Recipient Organisms Eligible for Tier I and Tier II Exemptions EPA is delaying by five months a rule that exempts certain bioengineered microorganisms from TSCA reporting requirements.
Mercury; Reporting Requirements for the TSCA Mercury Inventory EPA is delaying by four months an interim deadline to publish a new rule related to reporting mercury use. Congress set a deadline for EPA to issue a final rule by June 22, 2018.
Service Fees for the Administration of the Toxic Substances Control Act EPA is delaying by seven months a rule that will set fees paid by chemical manufacturers to help defray the costs of implementing TSCA.
TSCA Chemical Data Reporting; Requirements for Inorganic Byproducts EPA has begun a negotiated rulemaking in an effort to develop consensus among participants regarding limits on chemical data reporting requirements for inorganic byproduct substances when those substances are recycled, reused, or reprocessed. Notably, the Obama administration's announcement about the start of this process indicated it would be governed by both FACA and the Negotiated Rulemaking Act, but when the Trump administration announced a public meeting to gather input, FACA was not mentioned.
Toxic Release Inventory (TRI); Response to Petition From the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) to Add 25 Chemicals EPA is delaying by seven months its response to a May 2014 petition from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute to add 25 chemicals to the Toxics Release Inventory, which would ensure the public knows where and how much of those chemicals are being released into the environment.
Nanoscale Materials; Chemical Substances When Manufactured, Imported, or Processed as Nanoscale Materials; Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements EPA is delaying indefinitely reporting requirements for nanoscale materials. The Obama administration finalized these one-time reporting requirements in January 2017.
TSCA Inventory Notification Active-Inactive Reporting Requirements EPA has finalized rules and procedures by which chemical companies will contribute to a new TSCA Inventory. The current Inventory, according to many experts, includes tens of thousands of chemicals that are no longer found in commerce.
Toxics Release Inventory; Addition of Nonylphenol Ethoxylates EPA is delaying by five months a rule that would add nonylphenol ethoxylates to the Toxics Release Inventory. These chemicals break down in the environment and become toxic to aquatic organisms. The degradates have been found in freshwater, saltwater, groundwater, sediment, soil, and aquatic biota.
Community Right-to-Know; Adopting 2017 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Codes for Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Reporting EPA has begun a rulemaking to adjust NAICS codes used in TRI reporting so that they align with the most recent updates approved by OMB in 2016.
Procedures for Evaluating Existing Chemical Risks Under the Toxic Substances Control Act EPA has finalized new rules governing the process by which the agency will review chemicals in commerce to determine if they pose an unreasonable risk to people or the environment. Public interest experts have raised concerns about the changes made to this rule since it was proposed by the Obama administration.
Procedures for Prioritization of Chemicals for Risk Evaluation Under the Toxic Substances Control Act EPA has finalized new rules governing the process by which the agency will prioritize chemicals in commerce for risk evaluation, to determine if they pose an unreasonable risk to people or the environment. Public interest advocates have raised concerns about changes to the rule since it was proposed by the Obama administration.
LONG-TERM ACTIONS AND INACTIVE RULEMAKINGS
Lead; Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program for Public and Commercial Buildings EPA is delaying indefinitely potential new rules governing renovations at commercial and public buildings that may have lead paint problems. The review of existing rules' adequacy was prompted by a lawsuit EPA settled with environmental and children's health advocacy groups.
Pesticides; Expansion of Crop Grouping Program EPA continues to slowly amend regulations that will promote greater use of crop grouping for tolerance-setting purposes and facilitate the availability of pesticides for minor crop uses.
Pesticide Data Requirements for Nontarget Insect Pollinators EPA is delaying by at least 13 months a rule that would require pesticide manufacturers to submit data regarding their products' impact on bees and other insect pollinators. Without this data, new rules regulating pesticide threats to bees are unlikely.
Review of Pesticides; Certification of Pesticide Applicators EPA is delaying indefinitely rules governing training, certification, and minimum age requirements for people who apply pesticides to crops across the United States.
Pesticides; Clarifying Changes to Labeling EPA is delaying indefinitely a proposal to improve pesticide labeling regulations.
Restoration of Inadvertently-Removed Exemption From the Requirements of FIFRA EPA is delaying indefinitely an effort to fix an inadvertent removal of an exemption from the requirements of FIFRA.
Certain Nonylphenols and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates; Significant New Use Rule EPA is delaying by at least 22 months a rule that would effectively slow the adoption of new uses of a class of chemicals that have been found to be persistent in the environment and highly toxic to aquatic animals. Current uses include tile and grout cleaner, tool cleaners, and more. The Obama administration projected finalizing the rule by late 2016. It is now projected for publication in late 2018.
Trichloroethylene (TCE); Regulation of Certain Uses Under TSCA Section 6(a) EPA is delaying indefinitely a rule that would have banned the use of TCE in aerosol degreasing and spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities. The agency published a proposed rule in December 2016, aimed at reducing cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, autoimmune diseases, and more.
Significant New Use Rule; Alkylpyrrolidone Products EPA is delaying indefinitely a rule that would have effectively slowed new uses of chemicals that are often used as substitutes for NMP (which the agency had proposed to ban for those uses). These toxic substitutes can cause birth defects. EPA had earlier projected this rule would be finalized in late 2017.
Trichloroethylene (TCE); SNUR for Non-Aerosol Spray Degreasers EPA is delaying indefinitely a rule that would have effectively stopped new uses of TCE in non-aerosol spray degreasing applications. Paired with another rule that would have banned aerosol spray degreasing applications of TCE, this would have helped prevent cancer, birth defects, and more. EPA had earlier predicted this rule would be finalized in July 2018.
Regulation of Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic Chemicals Under TSCA Section 6(h) EPA projects it will meet May 2019 and October 2020 statutory deadlines to regulate certain persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals identified in the 2016 Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act.
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs); Reassessment of Use Authorizations for PCBs in Small Capacitors in Fluorescent Light Ballasts in Schools and Daycares EPA is delaying indefinitely an effort to determine whether loopholes in 1970s-era PCB bans can still be justified as not presenting an unreasonable risk. One of those loopholes was for PCBs used in fluorescent lights.
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs); Reassessment of Use Authorizations EPA is delaying indefinitely an effort to close loopholes in 1970s-era PCB bans.
Toxics Release Inventory (TRI); Addition of Natural Gas Processing Facilities EPA is delaying indefinitely a response to environmentalists' petition to add >250 natural gas processing facilities to the Toxics Release Inventory, which would have greatly increased public understanding of the pollution threats from these facilities. The agency had previously projected finalizing the rule by late 2018.
Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Mixtures EPA is delaying indefinitely an effort to demand disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. The effort was prompted by a petition by 115 environmental and public health organizations, and EPA had earlier projected a notice of proposed rulemaking in June 2018.
TSCA Chemical Data Reporting Revisions EPA projects it will meet a June 2019 statutory deadline to update its Chemical Data Reporting rules. Doing so will ensure that the quadrennial data call in 2020 accurately reflects the quantity of chemicals manufactured and imported into the United States.
Procedural Rule: Review of CBI Claims for the Identity of Chemicals on the TSCA Inventory--Amended TSCA Section 8(b)(4)(C) EPA is delaying indefinitely a rule that would have ensured all chemical information listed as "confidential" in the TSCA Inventory is reviewed to ensure confidentiality claims are valid. Note that Congress set a one-year deadline for EPA to finalize this rule after first finalizing the procedures for updating the Inventory, which EPA has failed to do (see above RIN 2070-AK24)
Significant New Uses of Chemical Substances; Updates to the Hazard Communication Program and Regulatory Framework; Minor Amendments to Reporting Requirements for Premanufacture Notices EPA is delaying by at least 12 months a rule that would ensure aspects of TSCA regulations governing significant new uses of existing chemicals align with OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard.
PLANS CANCELLED
Restructuring of Pesticide Adverse Effects Reporting Regulations EPA is abandoning an effort to restructure regulations governing the way pesticide companies report adverse effects from the pesticides, as they become aware of the effects.

 



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