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EPA Shifts Timeline for Chemical Risk Evaluations

Oct. 11, 2019, 9:46 PM

The EPA is giving the public more time upfront to comment on chemical risk evaluations before the agency’s advisers critique those same documents, the agency’s top chemicals official said Oct. 11.

A new chemical risk evaluation release schedule that the Environmental Protection Agency is announcing will give the public at least 30 days, hopefully more, to review draft chemical risk evaluations before those documents are critiqued by the agency’s Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals, said Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention.

She updated Bloomberg Environment on the agency’s plans to complete 10 chemical risk evaluations no later than June 22.

An independent attorney representing the group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families expressed reservations about the timetable that the agency hopes to follow.

The mandate comes from the 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act amendments. For the first time in the law’s history, TSCA now requires the agency to examine the health and environmental risks of chemicals already in commerce.

The agency’s risk evaluations are important, because they examine chemicals that may be important to the car, construction, electronics, textile, transportation, and other industries, which use them to produce a wide range of goods. If the EPA decides a chemical poses too great a risk of injuring people or the environment, it must regulate that compound to reduce that the potential harm.

Too Little Time

In May, the EPA said it would release all 10 draft evaluations and have them critiqued by its science advisory committee by the end of this year.

Meeting that schedule, however, has meant the public has had little time—sometimes only two weeks—to review the very complex scientific analyses before the agency’s advisers met to critique them. The public has had a full 60-day comment period, but much of that has followed the advisory committee’s meeting.

That’s a big change from the agency’s past practice. Historically, the public comment period on scientific or technical material has finished before the agency’s advisers begin to to peer review that same information.

Trade associations including the American Chemistry Council, environmental health organizations, and other groups interested in chemical policies have asked the agency to give them more time to offer information and perspectives on the chemical analyses prior to the science advisory committee’s meetings.

Members of the EPA’s Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals also have complained that they haven’t had the time they need to review the EPA’s analyses, which can be hundreds of pages long with many hyperlinks to additional information.

The advisers also have stressed their desire to hear the public’s perspective.

The agency heard the “groundswell” of requests for more time, and altered its plans, Dunn said.

Four By Year’s End

Four of the 10 chemical risk evaluations have been released and peer reviewed. Another six are waiting in the wings.

Those six address asbestos, which is used to make chlorine and caustic soda, and five solvents—carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride, n-methylpyrrolidone, perchloroethylene, and trichloroethylene.

Four of the six remaining draft evaluations will be released for public comment by year’s end, Dunn said.

The remaining two draft risk evaluations will be released in January, she said.

The advisory committee will critique two of those six risk evaluations this year, and the remaining four during two meetings early next year, Dunn said.

Yet TSCA’s deadline to issue all 10 risk evaluations by June 2020 will be met, she said.

Legal Implications

The EPA is giving itself little time to address both the public’s and the committee’s comments, Robert M. Sussman, who served in senior EPA positions during the Clinton and Obama administrations, said.

The chemicals advisory committee already has pointed out many problems with the four draft risk evaluations it examined, said Sussman, an independent attorney representing Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

Those risk evaluations covered 1-bromopropane, 1, 4 dioxane, a group of flame retardants called the cyclic aliphatic bromide cluster (HBCD), and pigment violet 29.

“There’s a real risk here that EPA will ignore the committee’s recommendations,” he said.

If the EPA fails to address scientific problems the committee points out, the agency could be vulnerable to lawsuits that could be filed challenging either the risk evaluations conclusions or final regulations based upon those conclusions, Sussman said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com