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EPA announces first chemicals for “fast-track” under new chemical law – Selection highlights law’s limitations and continuing role for states [The Pump Handle]
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the first five chemicals it will “fast-track” under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st Century (LCSA). The EPA now has until June 22, 2019 to identify where these chemicals – all considered persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic – are used, how exposures occur, and propose possible restrictions on their use.
“The threats from persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals [PBTs] are well-documented,” Jim Jones, assistant administrator in EPA’s office of chemical safety and pollution prevention, explained in a statement. “The new law,” said Jones, “directs us to expedite action to reduce risks for these chemicals, rather than spending more time evaluating them. We are working to ensure the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act signed in June of this year delivers on the promise of better protecting the environment and public health as quickly as possible.”
This sounds promising. While it is a step forward in pushing the EPA to act, a look at these five chemicals and how they were “identified” – how the EPA explained the selection– raises questions about how effectively this provision of the law will enable the EPA to protect public health and the environment. As Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families director Andy Igrejas said in a statement,
“We fought to have this provision applied to a broader group of chemicals, but the chemical industry resisted. Nevertheless, expedited action even against these five chemicals will be a win for public health.”
How this LCSA provision works, also points to the ongoing importance of state action on toxics, say toxics reduction experts in states at the forefront of safer chemicals policies.
So what are these five chemicals and how were they chosen?
As described by the EPA they are:
Decabromodiphenyl ethers (DecaBDE), used as a flame retardant in textiles, plastics and polyurethane foam;
Hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD), used in the manufacture of rubber compounds and lubricants and as a solvent;
Pentachlorothio-phenol (PCTP), used as an agent to make rubber more pliable in industrial uses;
Tris (4-isopropylphenyl) phosphate, used as a flame retardant in consumer products and other industrial uses; and
2,4,6-Tris(tert-butyl)phenol, used as a fuel, oil, gasoline or lubricant additive.
The details of how these five were “identified” – EPA’s wording in explaining the selection – are a bit complicated. First, as the EPA explains, criteria in the LCSA were applied to chemicals previously listed on the EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) 2014 Work Plan. To rise to the top of the possible heap, the chemicals had to score high for environmental persistence and for bioaccumulation.
However, Congress excluded from possible LCSA fast-tracking any metals and metal compounds. It also excluded chemicals for which the EPA has already begun an evaluation or completed a TSCA Work Plan “problem formulation” – EPA’s analysis of hazards, exposures of concern, toxicity and other data. Further excluded are chemicals subject to a TSCA “consent agreement” – when the EPA requires a company to provide environmental or health effects data to determine if the substance presents unreasonable risks – and those for which the EPA has already received a LCSA risk evaluation request.
Toxic but not necessarily the most urgent
With these five categories of exclusions, the law appears likely to eliminate fast-track possibility for various chemicals that may be of greater urgency for regulation, notes Toxic Use Reduction Institute senior associate director and policy program manager Rachel Massey. Given the way the law works, “The five chemicals actually aren’t really EPA’s ‘choice’,” explains Environmental Defense Fund senior scientist Richard Denison.
“That PBTs are a priority and the EPA can move forward on these chemicals is good, but not as good as being able to move forward on more important chemicals,” says Holly Davies of Washington State Department of Ecology’s hazardous waste and toxics reduction program. And, she points out, with the exception of the flame retardant tris (4-isopropylphenyl) phosphate, which is used in children’s products – and that her department has already recommended banning – and decaBDE, the other chemicals being fast-tracked are not ones with likely wide consumer exposure.
DecaBDE has already been voluntarily phased out of production in the U.S. It is still imported and used in products, but already subject to numerous restrictions under state laws, including some outright bans. “We banned deca nine years ago,” says Davies. Still, the EPA’s new action was welcomed as a way to get the flame retardant out of products nationwide.
With respect to the other chemicals on the fast-track list, HCBD is classified as a possible human carcinogen and listed by the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. It is no longer manufactured intentionally in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Mexico or Canada. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), “Information on unintentional HCBD production is scarce,” and there is “no information on on-going uses of HCBD.”
Neither PCTP (used in rubber manufacture) nor 2,4,6-Tris(tert-butyl)phenol (used in fuels and other chemical manufacturing), are tracked by the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory so it’s hard to know where they’re used or released in the U.S. Both are highly persistent and bioaccumulative but the European Union currently lists neither as “substances of very high concern.”
So while these five chemicals are undeniably toxic, there are many others not receiving this fast-track attention that may be of more widespread concern. “To the extent that the EPA is not taking on the most potentially high priority chemicals, it’s really important for the states to continue their work on these chemicals,” says Massey.
And says Davies, “It’s important for states to keep looking at chemicals not on the EPA’s first lists” under the new federal law.
My friend Paul Douglas calls himself an albino unicorn. He is a Republican (one of my few Republican friends!) and an evangelical Christian (one of my few evangelical Christian friends!) who is extremely well informed about climate change, and who acts on a day to day basis as a climate warrior, informing people of the realities of climate change at several levels.
I tend to think of Paul as a tire, because he is where the rubber meets the road. His job is informing corporations and such about the risks they are facing right now, today, tomorrow, next week with respect to weather. Paul has been doing some sort of meteorology or another for quite a while now, having been a TV presenter meteorologist in Chicago and the Twin Cities, having consulted in Hollywood (Jurassic Park and Twister), and having run various metrology companies like the one he runs now. He also gives talks around the Twin Cities and elsewhere about climate change, writes a regular column for the Star Tribune, and has consulted for or testified for various government agencies on long term climate change risks.
Paul and I have somewhat similar histories. Born only a few weeks apart, raised in the non-urban part of a semi-industrialized semi-rural eastern state (New York for me, Pennsylvania for him), and having had formative weather experiences early in life. In Paul’s case, it was a major hurricane that eventually lumbered into the mountainous areas of Central Pennsylvania, causing killer floods and other mayhem. Paul, a teenager at the time, and a scout, developed an early warning system for river floods, and probably earning one hella merit badge.
Paul is an excellent explainer of climate and weather, as you can learn from this interview. And, he does not restrict his communication efforts to places like churches or whatever venues are frequented by Evangelical Christians such as lutefisk breakfasts, snake handling session, etc. In fact, the aforementioned interview is on Atheist Talk Radio.
And now, Paul has co-authored a book on climate change written specifically for Evangelicals: Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment.
The book’s structure swaps back and forth between science (the parts written by Paul Douglas) and scripture (the parts written by co-author Mitch Hescox). I don’t know Mitch, but from the blurb I learn: “Mitch Hescox leads the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), the largest evangelical group dedicated to creation care (www.creationcare.org). He has testified before Congress, spoken at the White House, and is quoted frequently in national press. Prior to EEN, he pastored a church for 18 years and worked in the coal industry. Mitch and his wife live in Pennsylvania.”
Now, you might think that the chances of an Evangelical Christian reading my blog is about zero. This is not true. Many Christians, ranging from Evangelical to less-than-angelical read this blog, they just don’t say much in the comments section. Except those who do, mainly those denying the science of climate change. Well, this book is for all of you, especially the Evangelical deniers, because here, the case is made on your terms and in your language, in a very convincing way, and, including the science. It turns out that, according to the Bible, you are wrong on the Internet.
Let’s say that you are a fairly active atheist who likes to annoy your Christian relatives at holidays. If that is the case, then this book is for you!! This is the book to give to your Uncle Bob.
I can’t attest to the scriptural parts of this book. This is not because I’m unfamiliar with Scripture or have nothing to say about it. Both assumptions would be highly erroneous. But, in fact, I did not explore those parts of this book in much detail, just a little. But I am very familiar with the science in this book, I’ve delved deeply into it, and I can tell you that Paul has it right, and it is very current.
From the publisher:
Forget the confusing doom and gloom talk about climate change. You want to know the truth about what’s happening, how it could affect your family and the world, and more important, if there are realistic ways to do something about it–even better, solutions that reflect your beliefs.
Connecting the dots between science and faith, pastor and influential evangelical leader Mitch Hescox and veteran meteorologist Paul Douglas show how Christians can take the lead in caring for God’s creation. Tackling both personal and global issues, these trusted authors share ways to protect our families, as well as which action steps will help us wisely steward the resources God has given us.
This hopeful book offers a much-needed conservative, evangelical approach to a better way forward–one that improves our health, cleans up our communities, and leaves our kids a better world.
What I find exceptional about Paul Douglas’s conversation about weather, aside from the fact that he well commands an audience of those who might otherwise be naysayers, is that he brings decades of direct observation of actual climate change into the discussion. He has been a) reporting the weather during the periods of maximal change so far, b) while paying close attention and c) never had his mind shut down to ignore climate change, as has happened in the past to so many meteorologists.
The book is loaded with helpful greyscale graphics, and notes/references. Paul is at @pdouglasweather
The book launches on November 15th (see you at the launch?) but is available now.
A multi-national team of scientists sought to determine the age of Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus). These animals grow rather slowly (about 1cm per year) and are the largest fish in the arctic (>500 cm long), but their longevity was not yet known. The team used radiocarbon dating of crystalline proteins found within the nuclei of the eye lens. Because these proteins are formed prenatally, they offer a rather accurate way to estimate an animal’s age. Their findings, published in Science, show that the animals reach a lifespan of at least 272 years! The largest animal tested was approximately 392 years old (give or take 120 years). They also speculate that the sharks reach sexual maturity around 156 years old.
A new study published in Nature reports that humans seem to have already reached our maximum lifespan of 122 years (Jeanne Calment’s age at death – she was the longest-lived human on record). This improvement from 101 years in the 1860s and 108 years in the 1990s is thanks in part of genetics and modern medicine. Longevity data from France shows that more and more people are surviving into old age. The peak seems to be about age 100 after which survival begins to decline rather quickly. Their findings suggest that there may indeed be a limit to our longevity.
Dong X, Milholland B, Vijg J. Evidence for a limit to human lifespan. Nature. 538: 257–259, 2016. doi:10.1038/nature19793
Nielson J, Hedeholm RB, Heinemeier J, Bushnell PG, Christiansen JS, Olsen J, Ramsey CB, Brill RW, Simon M, Steffensen KF, Steffensen JF. Eye lens radiocarbon reveals centuries of longevity in the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus). Science. 353(6300): 702-704, 2016. DDOI: 10.1126/science.aaf1703
In true MacGyver fashion, an employee at the Rainbow Springs Nature Park in New Zealand
repaired a damaged kiwi bird egg with masking tape thus protecting the chick from dehydration. The newly hatched bird was appropriately named Fissure.
…in alligators at least.
Researchers from the University of Manchester, University of North Texas – Denton, and the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge – Grand Chenier, Louisiana teamed up to explore the effects of exposure to low oxygen on embryonic American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis). Alligator eggs are often laid in nests where oxygen concentrations can reportedly vary between 11-20% (21% is normal atmospheric levels). This is really important as issues related to embryonic development could continue to affect animals throughout their adult lives as well.
The results of the study were recently published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. The researchers found that embryos exposed to low oxygen were smaller and had larger hearts even into their juvenile years. In addition, the mitochondria of juvenile alligators that had been exposed to low oxygen were more efficient at using oxygen. These adaptations may help the animals adjust well to low oxygen environments.
In contrast, a recent review article written by Patterson and Zhang suggests that human embryos exposed to low oxygen do not fare as well as alligators. While a period of hypoxia is important in normal development, prolonged exposure of embryos to low oxygen can result abnormal heart structure and function. In fact, it is thought that these embryos may be more prone to heart disease as adults.
Galli GLJ, Crossley J, Elsey R, Dzialowski EM, Shiels HA, Crossley II DA. Developmental Plasticity of Mitochondrial Function in American Alligators, Alligator mississippiensis. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. In press. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00107.2016
Patterson AJ, Zhang L. Hypoxia and fetal heart development. Current Molecular Medicine. 10(7): 653-666, 2010.