Daily News Archive
From July 20, 2005

EPA Failing to Protect the Public from Chemicals
(Beyond Pesticides, July 20, 2005)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report finding EPA has insufficient data on chemical dangers. The Agency is failing to protect the public from tens of thousands of toxic compounds because of the lack of data on the health risks of most industrial chemicals.

Released last week, the report reviewed EPA efforts to (1) control the risks of new chemicals not yet in commerce, (2) assess the risks of existing chemicals used in commerce, and (3) publicly disclose information provided by chemical companies under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

In 1976, Congress passed TSCA authorizing EPA to control chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. Flame retardants and phthalates are examples of industrial chemicals regulated by TSCA. Scientific studies suggest that many of these chemicals are linked to health threats, such as cancer, birth defects, and hormonal disruption.

The GAO found that chemical companies had provided EPA health data for about 15% of the chemicals that have been introduced over the past 30 years. Additionally, EPA has sought information about health dangers for fewer than 200 of the multitude of industrial compounds that were in use prior to the late 1970s.

EPA also has a limited ability to disclose information to the public. TSCA prohibits the disclosure of confidential business information, and chemical companies claim much of the data submitted is confidential.

The law "tells EPA that before you can regulate the chemical, you have to amass enormous evidence to prove it guilty. But EPA doesn't have the authority to get that evidence," said Andy Igrejas of the National Environmental Trust.

The GAO report recommends Congress amends TSCA to reduce the evidentiary burden that EPA must meet to take regulatory action, require companies to test all new chemicals and submit the results, require systematic testing of existing chemicals, and set goals for reducing the use of toxic chemicals.

The last industrial chemical EPA banned was asbestos, which was later overturned in federal appeals court. Since then, the agency has relied on voluntary actions from chemical companies.

The GAO report comes at a time when the European Union's efforts at reforming chemical regulations, via a policy called REACH (Register, Evaluate and Authorize new Chemicals), are being debated. Professor Joel A. Tickner, from the University of Massachusetts' School of Health & Environment, said the United States "is behind the curve" and "needs a fundamental new chemicals policy" similar to the EU proposal. (See Daily News)