Energy & Environment

EPA moves to reject industry request to change assessment of risks posed by carcinogen

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday proposed rejecting an industry request to change the findings it uses on the risks posed by a chemical the agency considers to be cancer-causing. 

In a new proposal, the agency said that it wants to stick by its 2016 findings on the dangers of inhaling ethylene oxide, which underpin 2020 regulations on the substance.

In doing so, it is snubbing requests from industry to instead use an assessment from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which found the substance to be significantly less dangerous than the EPA did. 

Industry has pushed back against the Trump-era regulation on ethylene oxide, which is used to make other chemicals and sterilize medical equipment. 

A petition from the American Chemistry Council, which had asked the EPA to use the Texas finding, has noted that if the agency had done so, it may have ultimately decided against more regulation. 

But, environmentalists have raised concerns about the Texas finding and sued to try to make the state release certain documents behind the finding. 

The EPA in its latest decision said that the Texas assessment and requests for reconsideration “do not provide a scientifically supportable basis” for relying on the state’s finding. 

In a statement, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency was taking this action to protect communities. 

“People living near chemical plants are increasingly concerned about exposure to ethylene oxide, and the science shows it is a potent air toxic posing serious health risks,” he said in a statement. “Today we reinforce and advance EPA’s commitment to protect overburdened communities by following the best available science and data.”

However, the Trump-era regulations on ethylene oxide also faced pushback from some environmental groups, who said they didn’t go far enough to protect communities who live near ethylene oxide-emitting facilities.

They said that the agency also should have required monitoring at the edge of facilities, known as fenceline monitoring, and lamented exemptions for emissions from certain devices.

It’s not clear whether the agency will eventually address these concerns.

“Whether EPA will follow today’s action reaffirming the best available science by requiring fenceline air monitoring at these chemical facilities, petrochemical complexes and other facilities like sterilizers is still an open question, and whether it does this will be part of the ultimate test of the agency’s commitment to fenceline communities’ health and well-being,” Earthjustice senior attorney Emma Cheuse said in an email.

Updated at 3:12 p.m.

Energy & Environment