President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency administrator has made good on something she calls a top priority: Testing chemicals used widely in the U.S. that have never been assessed for the risks they might pose to human health or the environment.
It's the same priority, in essence, that Congress set in 1976 when it passed the Toxic Substances Control Act, but 35 years later that act is "widely considered a failure" by watchdogs who note that the law exempted 62,000 chemicals already on the market in 1976, and another 22,000 have since been introduced without first undergoing rigorous testing for health and environmental risks.
Testing of human blood and urine routinely turns up dozens of synthetic chemicals, some with known toxic effects like cancer, developmental and reproductive problems and liver toxicity; but many more with unknown effects, but possibly including a range of health problems, from obesity to autism.
Which is why those watchdogs are expressing only reserved praise for Jackson's announcement this week that the EPA would require companies to test 19 "high production volume" chemicals (so-called HPV chemicals are manufactured in excess of 1 million pounds every year). The 19 target chemicals are the stragglers: EPA managed to get information about 2,200 chemicals by asking companies to volunteer the information; the makers of these 19 chemicals did not comply with that request, so now the EPA is demanding it.
The 19 chemicals don't have names that most Americans would recognize, but they are used in a range of consumer goods and industrial processes, from personal care products and dyes to metalworking, demolition and fingerprinting.
"This chemical data reporting will provide EPA with critical information to better evaluate any potential risks from these chemicals that are being produced in large quantities in this country," said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. "Having this information is essential to improve chemical safety and protect the health of the American people and the environment."
David Q. Andrews, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, pointed out several flaws in the testing program notably that it's exceedingly slow and relies on chemical production data that is two decades old.
"It is encouraging to see EPA issue test rules on HPV chemicals lacking safety data but there is a huge amount of work left to be done in compiling basic safety information on the chemicals used in highest volume in this country," he told The Daily Green. "As evident by the necessity of this EPA action 13 years after the HPV program began and seven years after the goal completion time the HPV program has been collecting information at a glacial pace due to its underlying structure which relies on voluntary participation. The HPV program is based on production volume in 1990 and it would be encouraging to stop playing catch-up and see EPA update the list of chemicals included in the program to reflect the new HPV chemicals that have come to the market as well as emerging or potential HPV chemicals."
The Daily Green has asked the EPA how long it will take to get and act on the testing data. When the agency responds, this post will be updated.
Here's a list of the chemicals:
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