EPA Tunes Out Industry’s Chemical Safety Alarms
Lawsuit to Excavate 1,200+ Buried Industry Chemical Hazard Reports
Washington, DC —Contrary to longstanding practice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency no longer publicly posts substantial risk advisories sent to it by chemical manufacturers, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, industry is required to notify EPA within 30 days when it obtains information which reasonably supports the conclusion that a chemical substance presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment. In early 2019, EPA stopped posting these industry reports in its public-facing database or on an easily searchable internal database, making it difficult for its own scientists to use the data for conducting risk assessments of these same chemicals.
From 2017 through 2018, there were more than 1,000 of these substantial risk reports that had been submitted by industry and published by EPA. Yet, since 2019, only one has been posted to the public database. EPA scientists inform PEER that another approximately 1,240 reports have been received but sequestered.
“The fact that industry’s own danger warnings are not being shared is just appalling,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, pointing out that this information had also formerly been shared with other federal agencies ranging from CDC to OSHA. “The inability of EPA’s current management to carry out this very basic public health function suggests a disturbingly deep cluelessness about their mission.”
EPA had been sharing these industry reports both internally and externally for decades. The main EPA guidance document on distributing these reports was issued 30 years ago in 1991. However, EPA has not responded to a PEER Freedom of Information Act request seeking records on who made the decision to stop posting them, or why this occurred, as well as for the missing industry reports themselves.
An EPA spokesperson told a news reporter that the person who had been responsible for posting these reports had retired in December 2018; and the agency lacked fundings to replace this single employee. However, at the same time, the agency finances an online tool enabling chemical companies to track their products through the approval process – internally called the “pizza tracker.”
“It is incredible that EPA has funds to post real-time data about the regulatory status of new chemicals for industry’s convenience but does not have funds to alert workers and consumers about substantial health and environmental hazards of these same chemicals,” added Bennett, noting that EPA has declined to reveal how much it spends on the pizza tracker. “Today, EPA still acts as if its only ‘customer’ is the chemical industry with public health merely an afterthought.”
At the same time, EPA is preventing its scientists from reassessing chemicals when new dangers come to light – a problem worsened by hiding these industry reports from its own risk assessors.