Energy & Environment

EPA to review part of cancer-linked chemical regulation after industry request

A flag of the Environmental Protection Agency is seen outside their headquarters in Washington, D.C., on June 3
Greg Nash

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will reconsider decisions underlying a rule governing emissions of a chemical that it has deemed carcinogenic following a request from an industry group.

The agency told stakeholders in letters dated last week that it would reconsider its risk information for ethylene oxide, a chemical the EPA currently says is carcinogenic if it is inhaled. 

The EPA also said it would reconsider its prior decision not to use a much lower risk finding from the state of Texas as an alternative risk value. 

Last year, the Trump administration finalized the rule regulating emissions and leaks of ethylene oxide from industry. The chemical is used in manufacturing and to sterilize medical equipment.

At the time, environmentalists argued that the federal government should have set an even stricter limit for what is considered a leak of the substance.

In its new letter, the Biden EPA said that it was granting the industry request because the Texas risk value was finalized after the rule’s comment period closed and because the risk posed by the chemical is “of central relevance to EPA’s determination that risks… are unacceptable and that more stringent standards are required.”

Last year, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a trade group representing chemical manufacturers, petitioned the EPA to both reconsider its risk information system value for ethylene oxide and to consider the Texas assessment. 

“EPA has not considered the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ’s) peer reviewed assessment on ethylene oxide (EO); and … EPA committed to address ACC’s Request for Correction under the Information Quality Act (IQA) related to the validity of the IRIS value, but decided not to do so prior to the issuance of the Final Rule,” the group said in a petition. 

Environmentalists have raised concerns about the Texas finding and sued in an attempt to compel the state to release the documents used as the technical basis for it. 

The ACC praised the Biden administration’s move to reconsider these parts of the rule in a statement. 

“We appreciate the EPA’s willingness to consider the latest science on this issue,” said a statement released by the organization.

“We look forward to working with EPA through this process to achieve strong, science based regulations that are protective of human health and the environment,” it added. 

Environmental groups have separately asked the EPA to take a look at aspects of the rule, including what they described as failing to provide an opportunity to comment on new information, failing to get rid of unacceptable cancer risk and failing to require monitoring at the edges of polluting facilities. 

Environmental advocates argued that some good could come from the EPA’s current review if it affirms its existing risk value, and they hope the agency would use that affirmation to strengthen the rule. 

But some have also expressed worry that they still are waiting to find out if the Biden administration will take stronger action to protect people. 

“Five months into the new Administration we are still waiting to see whether EPA will take strong, definitive action to protect fenceline communities and public health from chemical and petrochemical plants’ pollution,” Earthjustice senior attorney Emma Cheuse said in a statement. 

“The science shows that communities are facing unacceptable threats of cancer and other diseases from these chemical plants’ pollution. The critical question for EPA to answer in the process is what will it do to finally and truly help communities still facing this injustice?” Cheuse said. 

Tags chemicals Ethylene Oxide Regulation

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