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Chemical Regulation

US EPA proposes 20 high-, 20 low-priority chemicals for risk evaluation

Agency includes formaldehyde as high-priority candidate

by Britt E. Erickson
March 20, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 12


The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed listing 20 chemicals as high-priority candidates for risk evaluation and 20 as low-priority. The EPA is required to finalize those designations by December under amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) enacted in 2016.

High-priority chemicals will be subject to a 3-year risk evaluation, to inform the EPA whether certain uses of a chemical pose an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment. Low-priority chemicals will not be subject to further risk evaluation.

High-priority candidates:

7 chlorinated solvents

6 phthalates

4 flame retardants


1,3,4,6,7,8-hexahydro-4,6,6,7,8,8,-hexamethylcyclopenta[g]-2-benzopyran (HHCB), a fragrance additive

1,3-butadiene, used in manufacturing polymers

The 20 high-priority candidates include seven chlorinated solvents, six phthalates, four flame retardants, formaldehyde, a fragrance additive, and 1,3-butadiene, which is used in manufacturing polymers. The agency chose all 20 low-priority candidates from a list of chemicals determined to meet the EPA’s criteria for Safer Choice, a program intended to help manufacturers identify product ingredients that are safer for human health and the environment.

Environmental groups and some Democrats in Congress are concerned that the EPA is further delaying the release of its human health risk assessment of formaldehyde by moving the chemical under TSCA instead of finalizing an assessment conducted by the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program. The EPA completed, but did not release a draft of that IRIS assessment in the fall of 2017, according to lawmakers. That draft assessment showed a link between leukemia and formaldehyde exposure. The agency has yet to finalize the formaldehyde IRIS assessment, and it is unlikely to do so anytime soon. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that the EPA has stopped its IRIS work on formaldehyde.

“Moving forward evaluating formaldehyde under the TSCA program does not mean that the formaldehyde work done under IRIS will be lost,” Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement. “In fact, the work done for IRIS will inform the TSCA process. By using our TSCA authority EPA will be able to take regulatory steps; IRIS does not have this authority,” she noted.


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