It’s been three years since Congress passed historic, bipartisan legislation to update our chemical safety law and better protect the American public from harmful exposures.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has implemented the Lautenberg Act in a manner that threatens the bipartisan achievement along with public health. What’s more, many of the administration’s actions are flat-out illegal.
Here’s our current run-down of some key ways the Trump EPA is skirting and openly defying the law for chemical safety.
1. Letting companies hide key information
The reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act require the EPA to review whether “Confidential Business Information” claims that mask the identities of existing chemicals are warranted. Under Trump, however, the agency crafted a rule that made it easier for companies to conceal such information in violation of the public’s right to know.
Fortunately, the D.C. Circuit Court recently agreed with us that a key part of this rule was unlawful — an important victory for public transparency.
2. Withholding health and safety studies
In its first evaluation of a chemical’s risk under TSCA, the EPA denied the public access to critical health and safety information from studies used in the assessment — in direct violation of the law’s requirements.
In response to widespread criticism, the EPA has since released some additional information. But the agency is still illegally withholding data.
3. Ignoring exposures when evaluating risks
The EPA is tasked with evaluating the risks to health and the environment from priority chemicals under TSCA. But instead of doing what’s required by law, the agency is ignoring ongoing, real-world exposures to these chemicals from their emissions to our air, water, and land.
This approach has only one purpose: By ignoring major exposures, the EPA paves the way for chemicals to be deemed safe even if they may not be.
Environmental Defense Fund and other organizations are now challenging a key part of this violation in the courts.
4. Abandoning critical workplace protections
Under the reformed law, the EPA is expressly required to protect vulnerable populations — including workers. However, in a recently finalized rule on deadly methylene chloride in paint strippers, the agency narrowed its proposed ban to only cover consumer uses, while allowing its continued use in workplaces.
The EPA acknowledged that these products present unreasonable risks to consumers — yet workers are even more at risk.
5. Forgoing responsibility to protect workers
When reviewing new chemicals before they enter the marketplace, the EPA is also supposed to evaluate and mitigate risks to workers. Unfortunately, the agency is now approving new chemicals without any restrictions – even when it has found risks to workers, or when it lacks information needed to decide such risks.
To justify this unlawful practice, the agency has abdicated its responsibility to protect workers under TSCA, instead deferring to the far weaker health standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
6. Ignoring “reasonably foreseen” chemical uses
When reviewing a new chemical, the EPA is required not only to assess the intended use of that chemical, but also the ways in which the chemical can be “reasonably foreseen” to be made, processed, distributed, used or disposed of. The current administration is skirting and openly defying this requirement by only looking at the producers’ intended uses.
The fatal flaw in this approach is that once the chemical is on the market, it may be made and used in new ways not initially intended that add to the chemical’s potential risks.
By ignoring “reasonably foreseen” uses of chemicals, Trump’s EPA has returned the new chemicals program to the days when few chemicals were subject to any restrictions, and fewer still to any testing requirements.
7. Failing to obtain necessary chemical data
The majority of new chemical submissions lack any health or environmental data, hindering the EPA’s ability to conduct robust safety reviews. Under the reformed law, if a chemical doesn’t have enough data, the agency must require additional information or impose restrictions on the chemical to mitigate any potential risks — requirements it’s steadfastly ignoring.
Three years, after the law’s passage, Trump’s EPA has not used its enhanced authority a single time to assess the safety of new or existing chemicals.