WASHINGTON, D.C. – At the behest of the chemical industry, the Obama administration today backed off its effort to regulate a handful of widely used and highly toxic substances found in many consumer goods.
“It seems like a lifetime ago that the Obama administration came to power and immediately ramped up the rhetoric on tackling the challenges of toxic chemicals. Today, we know where President Obama actually stands: with chemical companies that have poisoned the environment and the American people for decades with impunity,” said Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook. “This decision is a stunning betrayal by President Obama of the public interest and public health.”
For several years, the White House Office of Management and Budget had been holding up two rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the public from exposure to certain chemicals. The first, submitted in 2010, would have expanded a list of “chemicals of concern” targeted for further action to reduce the risk they pose to the public. The second, proposed a year later, would have prohibited chemical companies from keeping secret the identity of chemicals under review when they submit health and safety studies to the Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA is withdrawing both proposed rules, which had been part of a larger initiative launched in 2009 by then-EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to use the agency’s limited authority under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act to rein in the use of “chemicals of concern.”
“The action today is a devastating blow to the effort to protect public health against dangerous chemicals and a clear illustration of the risks human health and our children face when discretion is left to bean counters in the White House,” said EWG senior scientist David Andrews, PhD.
EPA had proposed adding bisphenol A, eight phthalates and a category of fire retardants known as PBDEs to the “chemicals of concern” list. The substances have been linked to a wide variety of health risks in American children. BPA and PBDE exposure during pregnancy and childhood is linked to behavioral problems. Prenatal phthalate exposure has been linked to reproductive system damage in boys. TSCA gives the agency the authority to compile and keep current a tally of troubling chemicals. Adding a substance to the list shifts from EPA to the manufacturer the burden of proving that new uses of those substances are safe. Chemical companies strenuously objected to the proposed listings.
The second withdrawn rule dealt with a critically important aspect of the law that mandates that health and safety studies of chemicals cannot be kept secret as “Confidential Business Information” (CBI). In practice, however, chemical companies invoked their legal right to protect trade secrets in order to block public disclosure of the identity of the chemicals in the studies. Ever since TSCA became law in 1976, EPA, in turn, allowed “CBI” claims to proliferate unchecked, effectively shielding the very identity of thousands of potentially toxic chemicals from the public. The new rule would have required disclosure of the chemical identities within safety studies.
“This action by the Obama administration is a major retreat for public health and the environment and will likely result in the end of any future efforts by this and future administrations to protect the citizens of the United States from toxic chemicals,” said Cook. “Champagne corks are undoubtedly popping in the executive suites at chemical companies while Americans’ exposures to these dangerous chemicals—which commonly begins in the womb—will continue as a direct result of this complete surrender by the Obama administration.”