Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why should I care about the EPA?

Remember CFCs? Perhaps not.  I remember the big hullabaloo when I was little on how hairspray was supposed to be bad for the environment. Perhaps it was before my time, but the rumor was these hairspray contained Chloroflourocarbons (CFCs), which rise into the stratosphere, and break down by ultraviolet rays releasing free chlorine, which reacts with oxygen to destroy the ozone layer. Whew.  In spite of the “in” thing to do which was to spike hair, and act like mini-Debbie Gibson, I skipped the hairspray trend for the most part of high school.  Even then, I understood how one spritz a day was likely to affect future outcomes. Later on, I found out that the EPA had actually banned CFCs, though the news traveled to my country late and not mandated immediately.

The role of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) goes beyond ensuring a ‘clean’ and sustainable environment; as importantly, it works to ensure a ‘healthy’ and ‘safe’ environment. Some chemicals pose risks to both humans and the environment. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Pollution Prevention Act, EPA evaluates potential risks from new and existing chemicals and finds ways to prevent or reduce pollution before it gets into the environment.  

Toxicology as a science has grown exponentially since the 1960s, predicated by: 1) the discovery of teratogenic responses of Thalidomide 2) effects of chemicals in the environment and exposure of employees resulting in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1977 and Occupational Safety Health Act of 1970, and 3) improprieties of pharmaceutical industries in assessing toxicity studies, which resulted in the Good Laboratory Practice Regulations of 1978.  The impact of #1 and #3 were pharmaceutical-focused, whereas #2 impacted the chemical, oil, and manufacturing industries.  TSCA (#2) was first passed in 1977 to help keep dangerous chemicals off the market and avoid making people sick. In 2016, Point #2 (TSCA) was reformed, the first major update to an environmental statute in 20 years. However, it fell short of giving EPA the authority to take the actions necessary to protect people from toxic chemicals. Diverse stakeholders from industry, retailers, public health and environmental experts recognized these deficiencies and began to demand major reforms to the law. Forty years after TSCA was enacted, there are still tens of thousands of chemicals on the market that have never been evaluated for safety, because TSCA did not require it. Why not? Because the onus lies on the EPA to show that a certain substance is a risk. The law only lets the EPA t
est whether a chemical is toxic if companies have already shown the agency that the substance causes harm.  During the first Bush Administration, EPA tried to ban asbestos under TSCA, but the rule was overturned in court.  In TSCA’s 40-year history, only a few out of tens of thousands of chemicals on the market have ever been reviewed for health impacts, and less than 10 have ever been banned. With last year’s reform in place, prior to the election, robust data on chemical uses and exposures were being required; a registry of health- and safety-related studies along with details of the methods used is established to ensure public trust was recommended.   However, the current Executive Order further undermines the role of the EPA, putting us back to the time of pre-ban of Dioxin, Asbestos, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). 

The current Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” established a federal policy “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens” on the American people. Ahem, #2? Further, it asks that the Task Force “attempt to identify regulations that:

  • (i) Eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation;
  • (ii) are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective;
  • (iii) impose costs that exceed benefits;
  • (iv) create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with regulatory reform initiatives and policies;
  • (v) are inconsistent with the requirements of section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriates Act, 2001 (44 U.S.C. 3516 note), or the guidance issued pursuant to that provision in particular those regulations that rely in whole or in part on data, information, or methods that are not publicly available or that are insufficiently transparent to meet the standard of reproducibility; or
  • (vi) derive from or implement Executive Orders or other Presidential directives that have been subsequently rescinded or substantially modified
I say, EPA must be empowered instead.  Per this article, "Federal policy reform should establish floors, not ceilings, for state government action and should only preclude state actions that are less protective of health or the environment. “ EPA’s purview goes beyond climate change, it covers human and environmental health. Speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongue. Speak for the future generation, for they have no tongue yet either. Save the EPA, and you save yourself.

All you need
Please take a moment to make a statement about why EPA regulations matter to you. Here's an opportunity for your voice to be heard.