EPA Routinely Ignores Chemical Risk Calculations

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Monday, August 1, 2022
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933


EPA Routinely Ignores Chemical Risk Calculations

Workers Imperiled by Failures to Flag Serious Known Hazards


Washington, DC — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency managers often ignore risk calculations for new chemicals, thereby subjecting workers to dangerous exposures, according to an explosive new complaint by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Besides cancer risks, the complaint details how inappropriate EPA practices can mask severe developmental effects – such as miscarriage – and other health effects like cancer and neurotoxicity.

The Toxic Substances Control Act requires calculation of risks to workers from new chemicals to determine whether the substance is likely to present an unreasonable risk to health or the environment. The PEER complaint written by four EPA scientists (which will be submitted to the agency’s Office of Inspector General shortly) gives recent examples of managers unilaterally omitting health effects from risk assessments by –

    • Performing risk calculations that find risk, denying the calculations were performed, and then deleting them from the risk assessment;
    • Assuming that workers will avoid exposure to a chemical once they experience pain from substances that are corrosive, and thereby discounting real risks from a single exposure; and
    • Applying this avoidance theory to chemicals that are not corrosive (i.e., will not cause any pain), thereby ignoring risks other than corrosivity.

“EPA managers are overruling the professional judgment of staff scientists to significantly downplay or outright eliminate entire categories of hazards,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that some manager actions may be criminal, such as making false official statements. “These actions range from the oblivious to the malevolent, such as using a bromide like ‘once burned, twice shy’ as the basis for altering a quantitative risk assessment.”

EPA has been under considerable pressure from chemical manufacturers and their congressional allies to speed up approvals of new chemicals. Bypassing analyses of hazards is one way to avoid complications and hasten approvals. Notably, since the reviews of new chemicals were required by law starting in 2016, EPA has yet to formally reject a single chemical.

“These cases show exactly how workers are being insufficiently protected from occupational exposures to potentially dangerous chemicals,” added Bennett, pointing out that the risk calculations, or lack thereof, cannot be easily revisited once the chemical is approved. “EPA scientists do not have the ability to challenge even the most scientifically indefensible management edicts, since these same managers control the scientific integrity reviews.”


See EPA managers altering risk assessments 

Look at industry capture of EPA managers 

Examine a specific case of deleted risk warnings 

View industry pressure for faster chemical approvals

Revisit utterly broken EPA Scientific Integrity process

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