Despite the continuing debate about which chemicals are toxic and which aren’t, the EPA is issuing new chemical notices. Two such notices were recently issued in the Federal Register determining that 28 new chemical notifications are “not likely to present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment (82 Fed Reg. 19044 and 19046). Yet some 700-800 pre-manufacture notices (PMN) are generated annually; those 28 substances represent a drop in the bucket. It’s good that the EPA is managing to get some scientific results finalized, not so good that they appear to be avoiding PMNs that might require restrictions.
This snail’s pace is not really the EPA’s fault. President Trump’s election and subsequent dramatic budget cuts to EPA programs have sown confusion throughout the agency.
The Chemical Safety Act spent years being argued and revised before finally being signed into law in June 2016. It was designed to replace the existing and woefully out-of-date Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) with contemporary science, new safety standards, increased chemical transparency and consistent funding to drive a cleaner, safer environment. Yet TSCA is virtually on hold, frozen in a mire of budget controversy.
The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is on the verge of elimination, not because it is not valuable, but because it points out poor industry risk management activities that result in accidents and death. President Trump wants to sweep the CSB and its findings under the rug.
The EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, which assesses the risks of toxic chemicals, is also targeted for elimination. In an IRIS assessment, the agency provides expert scientific judgments on how much exposure to a particular chemical is safe. EPA regulators in the U.S. and abroad use these numbers to establish cleanup levels for pollution in air, water and soil. In the U.S., IRIS values affect the affordability and degree of cleanups as well as a polluter’s financial liability. But it too is on the chopping block.
The list goes on, slashing program after program, removing bans on toxic substances (such as lead in bullets), removing corporate accountability, removing scientific scrutiny. President Trump’s dislike (and lack of understanding) of science and the regulatory environment appears to be the motivation for the budget reductions. But if he thinks that reducing regulatory oversight is going to be good for U.S. business, he’s wrong.
As the world becomes a circular interconnected marketplace, the challenge of addressing global concerns has gained urgency, propelling standards such as the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) that ensure understanding and consistency worldwide. U.S. regulations are intimately tied into this global regulatory environment. Rolling back regulations will damage U.S. opportunities overseas. Products containing toxic materials will not be allowed into countries that have moved forward with their environmental laws. The European Chemical Agency’s (ECHA) REACH regulation, for instance, requires importers to provide comprehensive substance identification, encourages the use of safe chemical alternatives, and restricts the import of toxic Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC). Lead is on the list, which means that those lead bullets will not be allowed for sale in the European Union (EU). Other countries around the world are developing similar regulations and restrictions. Where’s the business benefit? There isn’t one for going backward, only forward. And this is not the direction the EPA appears to be going.
Approving substances such as those in the recent PMN notices is just one small part of the EPA’s responsibilities. The agency should be restricting toxic substances, such as lead, not removing restrictions that have the potential to make the entire U.S. a Superfund environment.
Published by Helen Gillespie