Good for them! They beat Congress’ deadline by 20 days.
That’s the first thing that came to mind yesterday when I read EPA’s announcement about the first 10 chemicals it’s selected for risk evaluations. EPA’s announcement is the first major milestone established by Congress when it passed sweeping changes earlier this year to the Toxic Substances Control Act. One provision of the law (Section 2605(b)(2)(A)) directed EPA to select 10 chemical substances from its 2014 “TSCA Work Plan for Chemical Assessments” and begin risk evaluations on them no later than 180 days after the law was enacted (i.e., December 19, 2016.)
The second thing I did was look at the list of 10. It includes super hazardous chemicals to which workers and consumers are exposed (e.g., paint strippers that contain methylene chloride or n-methylpyrrolidone) as well as tetrachloroethylene (PERC), trichloroethylene (TCE), and 1-Bromopropane. The list also includes asbestos—the deadly mineral that has long served as the poster child for why a new chemical safety law was needed. President Obama explained it this way when he signed the bill in June:
“…the system was so complex, so burdensome that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos –a known carcinogen that kills as many as 10,000 Americans every year. I think a lot of Americans would be shocked by that.”
Following EPA’s announcement yesterday, Andy Igrejas, Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families said:
“We support EPA’s choice of chemicals. The list they announced today is a strong one and appropriate EPA action will strengthen public health and environmental safety. We are particularly glad to see asbestos included on the list. The EPA’s inability to ban asbestos under the old law was a primary catalyst for the recent reforms. Asbestos is a major piece of unfinished business for the agency.”
So, what happens next?
EPA has six months to issue a document explaining the scope of its risk evaluation. Congress directed EPA to include in the scoping document information about exposure to the chemical, conditions of use, and the potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulations. The statute specifically mentions infants, children, pregnant women, workers, and the elderly as examples of susceptible subpopulations.
Congress also set a deadline for completing the actual risk evaluations. For each of these ten chemicals, EPA must publish its completed risk evaluation within three years of yesterday’s announcement. During that time period, EPA must publish a draft risk evaluation and allow public comment on it.
A risk evaluation, however, does not itself protect the public. If EPA’s evaluation determines that the chemical presents an unreasonable risk to humans and the environment, the agency must mitigate that risk within two years. The mitigation approaches, such as restricted use of the chemical or a phase-out of its use, would be subject to notice-and-comment rulemaking.
Environmental Defense Fund lead senior scientist Richard Denison put yesterday’s EPA announcement in perspective:
“…EPA’s issuance of this list in advance of the statutory deadline next month is a welcome sign of timely implementation of the new law. While not every chemical that everyone may have wanted is included among the first 10, that is because there are many more than 10 chemicals that need far greater scrutiny as to their safety. Indeed, the longer “Work Plan Chemicals” list from which EPA drew the first 10 consists of nearly 100 chemicals that present significant potential risk.
“What is most important is that EPA gets started, so that it can complete risk evaluations of the first 10 and move on to the next.”
The amendments to TSCA, which are the reason for this important EPA’s action, passed Congress by an overwhelming margin (i.e., 403-12 in the House and unanimous consent in the Senate.) I’m hopeful that the bi-partisan support for the law will shield it from attack when the Trump Administration takes office in January.
Update (12/1/2016): Thanks to Richard Denison at EDF for reporting that a bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging the Trump Administration to “maintain momentum” in implementing the new law. Their letter addressed to Vice President-elect Mike Pence was sent to Trump’s transition team yesterday.