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Groups call on EPA’s Beck to sit out chemical rulemaking

Today, five environmental health groups called on the EPA Office of General Counsel to require Dr. Nancy Beck, Deputy Assistant Administrator (DAA) for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, to recuse herself from ongoing rulemaking on proposed bans of unsafe uses of three dangerous toxic chemicals.

In a letter to EPA Acting General Counsel and Ethics Officer Kevin Minoli, the groups — Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, NRDC, Earthjustice, Environmental Health Strategy Center and Toxic Free Future — maintain that Beck’s involvement could violate federal conflict of interest and impartiality requirements, due to her history as an advocate for chemical companies opposed to the proposed bans and the author of industry comments criticizing the EPA risk assessments on which the bans are based. For five years Dr. Beck was the American Chemistry Council’s Senior Director for Regulatory Science Policy.

Recent media reports have documented how Dr. Beck, just days into her position, rewrote other proposed chemical safety regulations to match, in some cases word for word, the ACC’s preferred, weaker language. The groups are asking the EPA ethics office to take action to prevent this from happening with the three chemical rules.

EPA proposed rules for trichloroethylene (TCE), methylene chloride (MC) and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) under section 6(a) of the amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in December 2016 and January 2017 after years of review and risk assessment. The proposed rules call for a ban on certain industrial and consumer uses of the chemicals that have been linked to serious health effects including cancer, birth defects and damage to the nervous system. Last week, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families sent a letter signed by dozens of public health groups to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt urging him to finalize the rules as proposed.

The health effects of the three chemicals have been well documented. TCE has been linked to cancer, risks of cardiac malformations to fetuses and infants, liver and kidney damage and damage to the nervous system. MC is known to cause asphyxiation from acute exposure and is responsible for at least 50 reported deaths as well as incapacitation, loss of consciousness, and coma. Like TCE, MC is likely to be carcinogenic in humans. And NMP exposure is associated with developmental harm, including increased fetal and postnatal mortality, fetal body weight reductions and other effects on the mother and fetus.

Congress overhauled the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) last year in direct response to EPA’s poor record in addressing unsafe chemicals under section 6. The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act removes many of the roadblocks to effective regulation that had stymied the Agency under the old law, which allowed it to issue just a handful of rules under section 6 in more than 40 years. Under TSCA as amended in 2016, EPA now has at least some of the tools it needs for forceful action to eliminate unacceptable chemical risks.

“If these rules are delayed or weakened, more than two million workers and consumers will be needlessly exposed to serious, well-documented health risks.   We call on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to finish the job, protect our families’ health and finalize all three rules as proposed as soon as possible,” said Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Government Affairs Director Liz Hitchcock.

“Americans should be able to trust that officials making decisions on the safety of chemicals that impact our health and the health of our children are free from conflicts of interest.  Dr. Beck has already demonstrated she is unable to separate herself from her former role of industry lobbyist while working at EPA. It’s our hope that internal ethics office checks and balances will be applied to prevent her from acting on behalf of industry to squash the common sense regulations on these solvents, drafted after years of evaluation and discussion, including ample industry involvement,’ said Patrick MacRoy, Deputy Director of Environmental Health Strategy Center.

“As a first use of EPA’s expanded authority to reduce chemical risks, these rulemakings are precedent-setting and vital to the success of the amended toxics law,” “said NRDC Senior Attorney Daniel Rosenberg. “Unfortunately, as long as the current chemical industry takeover of EPA persists, the TSCA program will not have any credibility, or any inclination to protect the public from toxic solvents or anything else,” added Rosenberg.

“Nancy Beck has already undermined several health-protective rules proposed by the Obama Administration by modifying them to conform to industry’s wishes.  It would be unacceptable to allow Beck to work on – and potentially derail — the proposed bans of three dangerous chemicals to which millions of people are exposed,” said Eve Gartner, an attorney for Earthjustice.

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