When chemical manufacturers obtain information that a substance in the marketplace poses a substantial risk to human health or the environment, they are required to notify the US Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA made such notifications publicly available for decades. Then, without explanation, it stopped doing so in 2019, according to a Jan. 4 lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The agency also stopped making the reports available to its own scientists and other federal agencies, the watchdog group alleges.
The group is suing the EPA because the agency did not respond to PEER’s November 2021 request under the Freedom of Information Act. PEER asked the EPA for all substantial risk advisories that industry submitted since 2019, as well as records on who at the EPA decided to stop posting them to a public database and why that decision was made.
From 2017 to 2018, the EPA published more than 1,000 of these industry reports, according to PEER. EPA scientists told PEER that the agency received more than 1,200 reports since 2019, but the agency posted only one of them. The EPA claimed that the person responsible for posting the reports retired in December 2018, and insufficient funding has prevented the agency from filling the open position, PEER says.
“It is incredible that EPA has funds to post real-time data about the regulatory status of new chemicals for industry’s convenience but does not have funds to alert workers and consumers about substantial health and environmental hazards of these same chemicals” after they’re on the market, Kyla Bennett, science policy director at PEER, says in a statement.
The EPA’s own risk assessors no longer have access to the industry reports, which they need to reevaluate chemicals when new concerns arise, PEER claims. The EPA also no longer shares the reports with other US public health and safety agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the advocacy group says.
“The inability of EPA’s current management to carry out this very basic public health function suggests a disturbingly deep cluelessness about their mission,” Bennett says.