Political News

EPA Delays Bans on Uses of Hazardous Chemicals

Posted December 19, 2017 7:27 p.m. EST

The Environmental Protection Agency will indefinitely postpone bans on certain uses of three toxic chemicals found in consumer products, according to an update of the Trump administration’s regulatory plans.

Critics said the reversal demonstrated the agency’s increasing reluctance to use enforcement powers granted to it last year by Congress under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is “blatantly ignoring Congress’ clear directive to the agency to better protect the health and safety of millions of Americans by more effectively regulating some of the most dangerous chemicals known to man,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the ranking minority member on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.

The EPA declined to comment. In a news release earlier this month, the agency wrote that its “common-sense, balanced approach carefully protects both public health and the environment while curbing unnecessary regulatory burdens that stifle economic growth for communities across the country.”

Agency officials dropped prohibitions against certain uses of two chemicals from the administration’s Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which details short- and long-term plans of the federal agencies. The third ban was dropped in the spring edition of that report.

The proposed bans targeted methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), ingredients in paint strippers, and trichloroethylene (TCE), used as a spot cleaner in dry-cleaning and as a degreasing agent.

Under an overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act last year, the EPA initially is reviewing the risks of 10 chemicals, including other uses of these three. The updated law is known as the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, named after the late New Jersey senator who had long championed an overhaul of the loophole-ridden toxic substances law.

The revised law had strong bipartisan support. The Senate passed the measure on a voice vote; the House approved it 403-12. The intention was to give the EPA the authority necessary to require new testing and regulation of thousands of chemicals used in everyday products, from laundry detergents to hardware supplies.

In a compromise that disappointed some environmental advocates, the law required the EPA to examine about 20 chemicals at a time, for no longer than seven years per chemical. But the law expressly allowed for faster action on high-risk uses of methylene chloride, NMP and TCE.

Public health experts had been pushing for faster review of methylene chloride-based paint strippers after several deaths from inhalation, among them a 21-year-old who died recently after stripping a bathtub.

It has been several years since the EPA first declared these applications of the three chemicals to be dangerous. The agency itself has found TCE “carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure” and has reported that it causes developmental and reproductive damage.

“Potential health concerns from exposure to trichloroethylene, based on limited epidemiological data and evidence from animal studies, include decreased fetal growth and birth defects, particularly cardiac birth defects,” agency officials noted in 2013.

Methylene chloride is toxic to the brain and liver, and NMP can harm the reproductive system.

Michael Dourson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to oversee the EPA’s chemical safety branch, represented the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance before the EPA, which was considering restrictions on TCE.

Dourson, who withdrew his name from consideration last week, had been working as an EPA adviser while awaiting confirmation. The agency did not respond to a query about whether Dourson had been involved in the evaluation of TCE.

The EPA now describes the enforcement actions regarding TCE, methylene chloride and NMP as “long-term actions” without a set deadline.

“The delays are very disturbing,” said Dr. Richard Denison, lead senior scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund. “This latest agenda shows that instead of using their expanded authorities under this new law, the EPA is shoving health protections from highly toxic chemicals to the very back of the back burner.”

Sen. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the ranking minority member of the House Energy and Commerce committee, agreed, saying, “These indefinite delays are unnecessary and dangerous.”

“The harmful impacts of these chemicals are avoidable, and EPA should finalize the proposed rules as soon as possible,” he added.