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Watchdog questions adequacy of EPA standards for carcinogenic chemical emissions

Watchdog questions adequacy of EPA standards for carcinogenic chemical emissions
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An internal government watchdog on Thursday questioned the adequacy of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions standards for an air pollutant that the agency considers carcinogenic and another that it considers likely carcinogenic.

A report from the EPA’s inspector general’s office said that there are “potentially unacceptable risks from chloroprene and ethylene oxide emissions in some areas of the country.”

It added that the agency can’t “provide assurance” that its current standards regulating emissions of the chemicals are protective. 

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The watchdog said this is because the agency hasn’t included new risk evaluations for the substances into a relevant review process for the types of facilities that emit the chemicals. 

“In the absence of updated reviews for the applicable source categories, the Agency cannot provide assurance that its current [National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants] are protective,” the report said. 

It also analyzed EPA data to find that more than 464,000 people live in census tracts where people's cancer risks are greater than 100 in 1 million and where ethylene oxide or chloroprene are the major drivers of this risk. 

In 2016, the EPA determined that ethylene oxide, which can be used to form chemicals including anti-freeze or as a sterilizing agent, was carcinogenic to humans. In 2010, it found that chloroprene, which can be used to make products like adhesives and automotive parts, was likely carcinogenic to humans. 

In its official response to the report, the EPA said that it could finish new rules for certain relevant industries between the fourth quarter of 2022 and the fourth quarter of 2024. 

It also said it’s planning to conduct a technology review for the standards for chemical manufacturing emissions, and plans to consider ethylene oxide emissions as part of that action. 

The agency argued that there are limitations to the data the agency used to calculate how many people live in at-risk census tracts. It pointed out that the information is from 2014, making it several years old and said the agency needs more verification that the tracts are reflective of where people actually live.

Separately, another recent report from the agency’s internal watchdog found that a Trump administration political official delayed the publication of information about ethylene oxide in Illinois and said senior officials sought to restrict regional officials from certain monitoring activities for the substance.