Groups File FOIA Request for EPA-Industry Communications Over Agency Decision to Ignore Key Exposures to Asbestos, Other Toxic Chemicals

American Oversight, EWG: We Will Pursue All Legal Avenues to Obtain Documents

WASHINGTON – Today American Oversight and the Environmental Working Group petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency for release of documents detailing contacts between former EPA chief Scott Pruitt and the chemical industry ahead of the agency’s decision to exclude major sources of exposure when evaluating the health risks of asbestos and three other highly toxic chemicals.

In a Freedom of Information Act request, American Oversight and EWG are “seeking information to determine the extent to which industry and trade groups may have engaged with Mr. Pruitt and the EPA about the recent decisions.” In the petition, the groups pledged to pursue all legal avenues, including litigation, to get the requested documents.

“Scott Pruitt is gone, but we're still dealing with the aftermath of his assault on public transparency," said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. "Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler says he supports transparency. He can start by explaining to the public exactly how this decision was made and who had a seat at the table."

“The EPA abruptly retreated from a posture of moving toward more protection for Americans from these dangerous chemicals to a position that can only be seen as placating the chemical industry,” said Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney at EWG. "The American people deserve the fullest account of how Pruitt and his aides may have colluded with chemical companies and their lobbyists. When a top public health agency has the power to ban asbestos, and it doesn’t, something is amiss.”

On June 1, the EPA released so-called problem formulation documents indicating it will dramatically scale back the scope of its safety evaluations for 10 chemicals prioritized for action under the revamped Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA.

Congress’ 2016 overhaul of TSCA gave the EPA much broader authority to ban toxic chemicals or dramatically curtail their uses in commerce to protect the public, especially vulnerable populations like young children. Under the Obama administration, the EPA prioritized 10 chemicals for new safety assessments, including asbestos; 1,4-dioxane, an industrial solvent and common household product contaminant; and methylene chloride and trichloroethylene.

But under Pruitt, the EPA’s problem formulations failed to consider the key ways Americans are exposed to these chemicals, such as exposures from contaminated air, drinking water, and even consumer and skin care products.

“Pruitt’s resignation under a mountain of ethical scandals calls into question every decision he made during his disastrous 18-month tenure,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “These documents are vital to understanding just how compromised by special interests he and his deputies were.”

Through the FOIA, American Oversight and EWG are requesting relevant records from 26 current and former officials at the agency, including Pruitt, Wheeler, Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson and Deputy Assistant Administrator Nancy Beck – the former chemical industry official who now is in charge of chemical policy at the agency. The FOIA requests communications between the EPA and more than 20 companies and trade groups, including DowDuPont and the American Chemistry Council.

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