January 18, 2020 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

An important new piece by Sharon Lerner at the The Intercept describes how the Trump administration is gutting toxics regulations, and what that means in terms of increased cancer rates. Strategies promoted by the tobacco industry and Koch-funded groups are now taking root at EPA, including with a proposed rule that would sharply restrict the studies the agency can use when regulating (see past posts on that science-restriction rule here, here, and here). Lerner writes:

Virtually no sector of the EPA’s work has escaped reversals that will cause disease and death among the U.S. population. The agency scrapped the Clean Power Plan and a rule to improve fuel efficiency standards for cars, depriving the public of not just the climate benefits but also the improvements to air quality and health both would have brought. The EPA rejected its own science in deciding not to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to autism and other neurodevelopmental problems in children. Dozens of other EPA rollbacks — including the gutting of the Clean Water Act, the undermining of guidelines on emissions of methane from landfills, the loosening of restrictions on toxic air pollution from industrial facilities, the disbanding of a panel on air pollution — will have dire health consequences, as will the dramatic reduction in the enforcement of environmental laws.

… Throughout its 50-year existence, the EPA has faced the daunting task of regulating industries that are far better resourced than the agency. But the effort to rein in powerful companies, which has been met with varying degrees of success under previous administrations, has been largely abandoned under Trump. The EPA, now headed by a former coal lobbyist and run by other former lobbyists, executives, and lawyers from polluting industries, has set about undoing health protections, some of which were specifically designed to prevent cancer.

Lerner’s article delves into several specific cases in which EPA is pleasing polluters by failing to adopt the kinds of health-protective regulations that evidence shows we need: Signaling a disregard for its own IRIS program’s assessment of the carcinogen ethylene oxide, pulling funding for research into the effects of children’s environmental exposures, failing to ban asbestos, and completing weak and indefensible assessments of substances regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The problem is especially stark in Texas, where polluting facilities cluster and the state seems disinclined to adopt the kinds of rules that would reduce its residents’ risks of health harms — harms that are disproportionately concentrated in Black and Latino areas with low average incomes. Similar patterns are evident across the country, as pollution increases cancer risks and is concentrated in marginalized communities. Illinois resident Angela Ramirez told Lerner about the toll of getting breast cancer at age 38, after living and working for years near facilities that emit ethylene oxide:

Eight years since the diagnosis, her family is still recovering. Because of complications, Ramirez is awaiting several more reconstructive surgeries. Her daughter Ada, now 15, was recently diagnosed with PTSD, in part, Ramirez thinks, because she spent much of her childhood worrying that her mother wouldn’t survive. And her husband is working 80 hours a week to cover medical expenses and lost income. “Cancer changes your whole life,” she said recently.

… Ramirez still suffers from chronic back pain and weakness. But the realization that her cancer may have resulted from emissions from the local factories has caused a different kind of suffering. “Every time I open the windows I think about it now,” she said. “I’m so angry. My kids at 2nd and 3rd grade shouldn’t have had to wonder whether their mother was going to die.”

The chemical industry is benefitting from Trump’s regulatory rollback. The rest of us are suffering.

(Read the whole piece here.)

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