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EPA’s new approach to approving chemicals causing big concerns

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is discreetly changing its system of approving new chemicals, according to a report from NBC News. While the previous safety review process was criticized for being too slow, experts are saying that the new approach will not be as thorough.

In 2016, The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was passed, which required the EPA to systematically review the safety of commercial chemicals. But now, former EPA officials are claiming that some critical steps of the chemical review process are being eliminated, raising concerns about whether the new approach will effectively protect Americans from exposure to hazardous chemicals.

One of the biggest changes the EPA is making is the elimination of consent orders. This means that manufacturers will no longer have to sign a legal agreement that they will not use the chemicals under certain conditions. Consent orders will now only be given if the EPA believes that the intended use of a chemical poses a public health or environmental risk.

Experts explain that, under the new system, a new commercial chemical may be approved for one purpose and then end up being used later for other manufacturing purposes without a comprehensive review. The modified safety review process undermines the legislation passed with widespread approval by Congress in 2016.

Under the Obama administration, Bob Sussman served as co-chair of the Transition Team for the EPA and then as senior policy counsel to the EPA administrator.

“EPA is explicitly disavowing and downplaying a tool that’s really been a cornerstone of new chemical regulation,” Sussman told NBC News. “We believe EPA is taking a big step backward in the protection of health and the environment without an offsetting benefit.”

As an alternative to consent orders, the EPA will now put their confidence into a measure known as “significant new-use rules” to regulate chemicals that may pose a public risk if used for different purposes. Critics say there is a major difference between the former standards and the use of significant new-use rules, which often do not require testing.  

The 2016 legislation not only gave the EPA the authority to enforce a stricter review of commercial chemicals, but also required the EPA to reevaluate the safety of chemicals already in use by a certain deadline.

“What I’m observing is an effort by the agency and also some in the industry to turn back the clock and behave as though the Lautenberg Act was never passed in the first place,” former EPA official Lynn Goldman told NBC News. “The agency has been granted more authority to do testing, then it put hands in its pockets and said it doesn’t want to use this authority.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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