After intense pressure from the chemical industry, the Environmental Protection Agency will pare back the scope of its investigations into some of the most dangerous chemicals on the market – meaning chemicals posing a grave health and safety risk could get a pass from regulators.
Under a law passed by Congress during the final year of the Obama administration, the E.P.A. was required for the first time to evaluate hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals and determine if they should face new restrictions, or even be removed from the market. The chemicals include many in everyday use, such as dry-cleaning solvents, paint strippers and substances used in health and beauty products like shampoos and cosmetics.
But as it moves forward reviewing the first batch of 10 chemicals, the E.P.A. has in most cases decided to exclude from its calculations any potential exposure caused by the substances’ presence in the air, the ground or water, according to more than 1,500 pages of documents released last week by the agency.
The EPA will instead concentrate on hazards associated with direct contact, which means contamination of drinking water and other potential issues will not be addressed in the agency’s decision to restrict or ban these chemicals.
The approach is a big victory for the chemical industry, which has repeatedly pressed the E.P.A. to narrow the scope of its risk evaluations. Nancy B. Beck, the Trump administration’s appointee to help oversee the E.P.A.’s toxic chemical unit, previously worked as an executive at the American Chemistry Council, one of the industry’s main lobbying groups.
The EPA insists that the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other laws already speak to the issues of environmental exposure, but this position is not shared by all:
“It is ridiculous,” said Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, who retired last year after nearly four decades at the E.P.A., where she ran the toxic chemical unit during her last year. “You can’t determine if there is an unreasonable risk without doing a comprehensive risk evaluation.”
Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, and Representative Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, who played leading roles in passing the 2016 law, said the E.P.A. was ignoring its directive for a comprehensive analysis of risks.
“Congress worked hard in bipartisan fashion to reform our nation’s broken chemical safety laws, but Pruitt’s E.P.A. is failing to put the new law to use as intended,” Mr. Udall said in a statement referring to Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator.