TSCA and the Chemical Evaluation Process
Kathy Attar, MPH
December 7, 2016
Under the new Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the federal law that regulates industrial chemicals, EPA has announced the first ten harmful chemicals to be evaluated for risks to human health and the environment.
The new TSCA requires chemical evaluations be completed within three years. If EPA decides that a chemical presents an "unreasonable risk", EPA must put in place restrictions such as bans or labeling requirements, within two years. The process to get these toxic chemicals off the market will be slow.
The chemicals on the EPA's list pose serious health concerns to consumers and workers. Further, there is significant evidence that exposure to them is occurring right now. Many are found in consumer products and have been linked to cancer as well as reproductive, developmental and neurological toxicity.
EPA's first 10 harmful chemical list:
- Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a known human carcinogen. Used to dry-clean clothes and as an industrial degreaser in consumer, commercial, and industrial products.
- 1, 4 dioxane is a likely carcinogen can be found in personal care products like shampoo. We can also be exposed to 1, 4 dioxane in dyes, varnishes and waxes.
- Tetrachloroethylene (PERC) is a probable carcinogen. Used as a dry-cleaning fluid and in water repellents, spot removers, wood cleaners, adhesives and silicone lubricants.
- 1-bromopropane is a possible carcinogen and reproductive toxin. It is used in aerosol cleaners, adhesives and spot removers and for a variety of industrial applications. Certain dry-cleaning processes may also use 1-bromopropane. Pregnant women are particularly susceptible as even small exposures can be harmful to the developing fetus.
- Asbestos is a known carcinogen. Most people believe it is banned; it is not. Asbestos can still be used in insulation, brake pads, vinyl tiles and roofing materials.
- Methylene chloride is a probable carcinogen. Used as a paint stripper. It may also be found in spray paint and adhesives and in the manufacturing of photographic film.
- HBCD is a potential reproductive, developmental and neurological toxin. HBCD is a flame retardant used in polystyrene foam, textiles, and electronics. It is also found in building materials such as insulation.
- N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone is a reproductive toxin. Used in paint and coating-removal products, and as a cleaning agent for electronics and in industrial/domestic cleaning.
- Pigment Violet 29 is toxic to aquatic animals. It is a dye widely used in automotive and other coatings and plastics.
- Carbon tetrachloride is a probable carcinogen. This chemical poses a greater risk to workers as it is primarily used as a solvent in commercial and industrial products to make propellants, among other industrial chemicals.
This list scratches the surface of the hundreds of harmful chemicals already on the market that need evaluation and then swift action to rid them from our products and communities. Further, EPA's initial list leaves out a major offender: lead. Lead, a known neurotoxin, can still be used in products such as wheel weights and jewelry, among others. Children, often low-income and children of color, suffer the greatest and most long-lasting health risks from lead exposure.
The new TSCA law could be an opportunity to reduce health risks for consumers and workers. Unfortunately, under the incoming Trump administration, how chemical risk assessments are performed could be negatively influenced by industry. This could lead to chemicals being given the green light despite clear health and exposure risks.
Myron Ebell, who is heading Trump's EPA transition team, is a long-time climate change denier. He also works at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The Institute houses a "SafeChemicalPolicy.org" project which writes reports that generate uncertainty about the dangers of toxic chemicals in our environment. For example, they downplay the health risks associated with arsenic in drinking water and the need to tighten the U.S. drinking water standard. Arsenic has been linked to a number of cancers.
Health and environmental organizations must continue to watchdog the implementation of the new TSCA. We will draw contrasts between actions that protect public health and those that threaten our health and safety. We'll be particularly vocal on behalf of those most susceptible—pregnant women and children--and most exposed-- communities of color, low-income folks and workers.