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Policy

EPA on track to finalize TSCA rules

But concerns grow about potential conflicts of interest

by Britt E. Erickson
June 26, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 26

It’s been one year since the Toxic Substances Control Act got a major overhaul, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working diligently to meet several congressionally mandated deadlines under the revised law. On June 22, EPA finalized three regulations that will steer the agency as it puts the revised law into action.

Vitals

The first 10 chemicals EPA selected for evaluation under the revised TSCA

Asbestos
1,4-Dioxane
1-Bromopropane
Carbon tetrachloride
Methylene chloride
N-methylpyrrolidone
Tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene
Trichloroethylene
A cluster of cyclic aliphatic bromide flame retardants
Pigment Violet 29

One of the rules lays out the procedures that EPA will follow to determine which chemicals were made in, or imported into, the U.S. during the past 10 years. The other two set out how EPA will prioritize and evaluate the potential risks of those chemicals.

Implementation of the updated TSCA appears to be on track, but some members of Congress and environmental groups are raising concerns about conflicts of interest within EPA’s office that oversees TSCA. In particular, they worry that Nancy Beck, formerly an official with the chemical industry group American Chemistry Council, is now at EPA playing a key role in TSCA implementation, including completion of the three rules.

These three regulations “will directly affect the financial interests of companies represented by her previous employer, the American Chemistry Council,” Richard Denison, a lead senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, says.

Echoing Denison’s concerns is the top Democrat on the Energy & Commerce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.). In a June 21 letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Pallone says Beck’s role in finalizing the rules “threaten[s] the success of the TSCA reform legislation passed last year.”

Meanwhile, EPA has delayed the release of documents related to the first 10 chemicals that the agency will evaluate under the amended TSCA. The revised law requires the agency to complete its evaluation of the 10 chemicals by 2019. EPA is in the “problem formulation stage” of these evaluations and is asking the public to weigh in on this step.

EPA was supposed to release the documents by June 19, but the agency has extended that date until Sept. 19 to get more information from the public. The documents are important because they will outline the strategy that EPA will use to assess the risks of the 10 chemicals. The agency’s evaluation of these chemicals will set the stage for EPA to assess the risks of other high-priority chemicals that are in the U.S. marketplace.

Under the amended TSCA, EPA must begin evaluating one new chemical each time it completes an assessment. By the end of 2019, the agency is required to have a minimum of 20 evaluations ongoing at any given time. If EPA finds an unacceptable risk for any of the chemicals, the agency must take regulatory action to reduce that risk within two years of completing the evaluation.

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