EPA assailed for withdrawing rules on chemical safety

The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to withdraw a pair of draft rules designed to expand oversight of dangerous chemicals is drawing fierce criticism from a prominent legal group.

“This about-face is disturbing given the fact that overburdened and vulnerable populations who already are exposed to toxic chemicals should be given more information and protection, not less,” Marianne Engelman Lado, an attorney for the nonprofit group Earthjustice, said Monday.

The EPA announced on Friday that it was pulling back two rules that had been in the regulatory pipeline for years.

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The regulations, which included an initiative to compile a federal “chemicals of concern” list and a provision limiting firms’ ability keep information about new chemicals out of public view, were deemed unnecessary.

A statement issued by the EPA cited other steps the government was taking to further the same goals.

But Engelman Lado said withdrawing the rules could expose the American public to greater risk.
 
“Withdrawing these rules only adds more secrecy and maintains what amounts to a black hole of information around toxics,” she said.

The “chemicals of concern” rule, submitted to the White House three years ago, would have added bisphenol A (BPA) and a host of other chemicals to the agency's list of substances that present unreasonable safety risks to the public and the environment.

While it awaited final review at the Office of Management and Budget, the EPA developed a separate “work plan” involving risk assessments for more than 80 chemicals. Five of the assessments have been issued for public comment, and the agency expects to have begun all of the assessments by 2017. 

“As such, EPA is withdrawing a proposed rule ... that lists chemicals that may be of concern,” the agency announced.

The other rule would have added new restrictions on industry efforts to keep information about new chemicals out of publicly available research by citing confidential business interests.

Both rules were being pursued under the authority of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a 37-year-old law that is currently the focus of reform efforts in Congress.

“Given this latest development, the demand for TSCA reform through Congress is now more urgent than ever,” Engelman Lado said.