EPA

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It may come as a surprise to those not familiar with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – the primary law that regulates chemicals used in the US that go into products other than cosmetics, drugs and pesticides – to learn that about 15,000 chemicals on the TSCA inventory have their identities claimed as trade secrets.

If the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) give their approval to a new herbicide called Enlist Duo and to corn and soybean seeds genetically engineered (GE) to resist that chemical, the United States could see a significant increase in what is already one of the country’s most widely used herbicides.…

What do these places have in common: Camp Lejeune in North Carolina; Mountain View, California, where Google headquarters are located; Endicott, NY – the birthplace of IBM; and 389 Superfund sites in at least 48 states plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands? All are contaminated by trichloroethylene (TCE), a carcinogenic solvent. TCE’s health hazards are well-documented. So why are Republicans rushing to condemn EPA’s just-completed TCE risk assessment?

When a widely used chemical is identified as an environmental health hazard and targeted for phase-out and elimination, among the most challenging questions for those involved with making such a chemical are: What to use instead? and Will the replacement be safe? The US Environmental Protection Agency’s report identifying alternatives to the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) illustrates how difficult those questions can be to answer.

Following the deadly April 17, 2013 explosion at the West, Texas fertilizer plant – and a series of other catastrophic incidents involving hazardous materials – President Obama directed federal agencies to improve chemical facility security and safety. Their report makes recommendations but does not mandate any immediate action. Meanwhile, dangerous chemical releases occur at workplaces around the US almost daily.

Conditions on Florida tomato farms improve thanks to the Fair Food Program; federal officials are developing a protective inhalation screening level for the West Virginia chemical spill region; and a Government Accountability Project expert testifies on whistleblower protections in observance of Workers Memorial Day.

While the Senate is pressing the EPA to prevent future chemical disasters, legislation has been introduced in Congress that would, if enacted, make it harder for the public to obtain information about chemical hazards, either in industrial storage tanks or consumer products. While state and local governments – and many manufacturers – are responding to growing public is demand for safer chemicals and more information about chemicals used in products – industry trade associations are promoting legislation that appears to counter that progress.

“For us it’s personal,” said Jeannie Economos, Farmworker Association of Florida Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator. “It’s a daily issue for us. Every day with a weaker protection standard is another day a worker is exposed to pesticides,” she said. On February 20th the EPA proposed revisions to its Worker Protection Standard for agricultural pesticides. Farm worker advocates are welcoming the proposal – the first update since 1992 – but see both improvements and what some are calling “steps backward.”

Obama Administration scraps plans for chemical right-to-know

The Obama Administration, at the urging of chemical manufacturers, withdrew two EPA actions proposed under the Toxic Substance Control Act. The measures would have provided the public more information about the hazards associated with certain chemical substances.

Occupational Health News Roundup

A federal judge rebukes a coal company that sued a miner for filing a whistleblower discrimination complaint; EPA and OSHA have yet to announce formal enforcement activities for the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion; and LA bus drivers say pesticides used on buses are making them sick.