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E.P.A.’s “interesting” holiday gift: delaying bans on hazardous chemicals

This week the news broke that EPA had moved rules to ban certain uses of three dangerous chemicals from the “pending” column into the “long-term action” column in its regulatory agenda. In the same way that you might say that a holiday gift from your aunt is “interesting” when you know you’ll immediately re-gift it, “long-term action” is DC bureaucrat-speak for “shoved into a drawer,” “kicking the can down the road,” or “not happening.”

A year ago, we applauded when the EPA proposed the three rules banning certain uses of dangerous chemical solvents – methylene chloride (dichloromethane), N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) and trichloroethylene (TCE). These were the first proposed restrictions on toxic chemicals under the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, and they demonstrated how EPA could use the new law to take action to protect public health. While the 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) aren’t everything that we need to protect public health, the new law holds the promise that EPA finally is able to put commonsense restrictions on known chemical hazards. It made sense to start with chemicals for which the agency already had an extensive body of evidence showing harm to our families’ health.

According to EPA’s risk assessments, trichloroethylene (TCE) is associated with such health hazards as kidney and liver cancers, non‐Hodgkin lymphoma, developmental effects, neurotoxicity, and others. Used in paint strippers, methylene chloride and N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) are toxic to the brain and liver and can harm the reproductive system. Inhalation of paint strippers containing methylene chloride has also been linked to at least 50 deaths since the 1980’s. This includes 21-year old Kevin Hartley from Tennessee who died in April after stripping a bathtub.

Restricting uses of these chemicals seemed to be a no-brainer—unless of course, the brains of the operation (EPA) come straight out of the chemical lobby.

As the year wore on, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families submitted formal comments to the EPA, as did tens of thousands of activists across the country. We met with staff at the EPA to say that the rules were well supported by the science. We also told them that finalizing the rules would not only protect millions of workers and consumers from the hazards of these chemicals, but it would also begin to restore the public’s confidence in the EPA’s ability to protect our families from toxic hazards.

By kicking this can down the road, the Trump EPA is showing that it will not prioritize public health ahead of the interests of the chemical lobby. Not shocking, really – the Trump nominee to run the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (Michael Dourson, who withdrew from consideration last week when it became clear that he could not be confirmed) has worked on behalf of the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance, an opponent of the rules.

Administrator Scott Pruitt has chosen this course of inaction, but EPA could still take the rules out of the drawer. If you’re as outraged as I am, help us sound the alarm by submitting a letter to the editor of your local newspaper calling on the EPA to regulate these dangerous chemicals.