June 8, 2018 / 7:10 PM / in 10 months

EPA scales back risk assessments for common chemicals: documents

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reducing the extent of it assessment of health risks associated with commonly used chemicals, according to documents seen by Reuters and first reported by the New York Times, the latest example of the agency easing its oversight of the chemicals industry.

FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2019 for the Environmental Protection Agency on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo

The EPA is required by the 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act to evaluate the human health risks associated with a list commonly used chemicals to determine whether they need to be banned, restricted or regulated.

The agency has decided, however, to limit the scope of its review of 10 of those chemicals - including dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene - to risks from direct contact in the workplace, according to the documents, instead of including risk from exposure once they make it to consumers or become present in the air, ground and water after disposal.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told the New York Times that existing laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act enable the agency to regulate those chemicals found in air and water, making it unnecessary for the agency to revisit restrictions on them under TSCA.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Former Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said limiting the review of these common chemicals to direct exposure is dangerous and goes against the intention of the TSCA, which was passed with broad bipartisan support.

“To suggest now to limit the review to the product itself is ridiculous,” McCarthy told Reuters. “It is contrary to the law.”

The American Chemistry Council cheered the decision. The EPA has rightly focused its scrutiny “on the conditions of use that present the greatest potential risks,” said ACC spokesman Jon Corley. Last month, Reuters reported that the agency, under pressure from the ACC, had delayed release of a study detailing cancer risks from formaldehyde.

The scaled back risk assessments fit with the EPA’s broader agenda under President Donald Trump to roll back regulations the administration considers unnecessarily burdensome to industry.

Trump twice this week expressed his support for EPA chief Scott Pruitt for his progress reducing red tape, downplaying a slew of controversies around how Pruitt’s office spends taxpayer dollars.

“Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA. We’re setting records. Outside he’s being attacked very viciously by the press and I’m not saying that he’s blameless but we’ll see what happens,” Trump said on Friday.

Pruitt is facing multiple government investigations into his spending on travel and security, and has faced increased scrutiny in recent days over reports he used his office to help his wife open a Chick-fil-A franchise, search for a used Trump Hotel mattress, and find special hand lotion.

Reporting By Valerie Volcovici

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