Health and environmental groups sue EPA over new rules on toxics

Earth Justice, the United Steelworkers, the Environmental Defense Fund and other public interest groups are suing the Trump administration over two new regulations to address toxic substances. The groups filed petitions last week with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. They are asking to court to review the rules which EPA published on July 20, 2017. The groups will argue that the regulations are contrary to Congress' intent.

The Natural Resources Defense Council's Daniel Rosenberg and Jennifer Sass use these photos to illustrate the matter.  It's the difference between what Congress intended when it amended the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and what EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has done with the new law.

Courtesy of D.Rosenberg and J.Sass at NRDC and their blog post "To Pruitt EPA: See You and Your Illegal TSCA Rules in Court."


One of the rules being challenged addresses the process and criteria for identifying high-priority chemicals for risk evaluations. The criteria adopted by EPA narrows the breadth of their assessments to only include certain uses of the chemical being evaluated.

“The Trump EPA deliberately bypassed the law’s clear requirement that safety assessments be based on ALL uses of a chemical. By allowing some or even most chemical uses to be ignored, the EPA proposes to do the very thing the new law was intended to halt,” said Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center.

Carving out this use or that use misrepresents the numerous ways in which individuals are exposed to a toxic substance. Slicing and dicing potential exposures was a weakness in the 40 year-old law. Congress intended to fix that deficiency when it amended TSCA in 2016.

As Richard Denison at Environmental Defense Fund writes:

"In reforming TSCA, Congress explicitly required that EPA determine whether or not a chemical substance, not individual uses, presents unreasonable risk, and to do so by conducting comprehensive risk evaluations. This is because, while exposures resulting from certain uses of a chemical viewed in isolation may present low risk to some groups of people, when multiple exposures are combined and when all potentially susceptible subpopulations are considered, such a chemical may well present unreasonable risk and warrant restrictions."

The second rule being challenge is a companion to the first. It addresses the procedures for determining whether a high-priority chemical present an “unreasonable risk to health or the environment.”  That’s a key phrase in the 2016 amendments. It was crafted to ensure the law puts primacy on health protection.

Three different lawsuits on the rules have been filed by public interest groups. The Environmental Defense Fund is party on one of the suits, the Natural Resources Defense Council on another lawsuit, and a coalition of groups including Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and the Union of Concerned Scientists are parties on the third lawsuit (here, here). The groups filed their petitions with the Court last week. At a later date they will be required to lay out their arguments challenging the two EPA rules.

In joining the lawsuit with Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Linda Reinstein with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization said:

"EPA's failure to review and restrict asbestos in 1991 led thousands of people to be exposed to the deadly substance, resulting in countless new cases of mesothelioma. Similar failures under the new law will, tragically, have similar deadly results.”


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