Today CPR releases Protecting the Public from BPA: An Action Plan for Federal Agencies (press release), outlining steps the FDA, EPA, and OSHA can take to use existing authorities to warn the public about the dangers of the chemical, and prepare longer-term regulatory controls. The paper was written by CPR Member Scholars Tom McGarity, Noah Sachs, and Rena Steinzor, and Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz and myself.
Bisphenol A (BPA) makes me want to cry. Not in the sad or mournful way, but in the “I want to kick and scream on the floor and throw a tantrum like my toddler” kind of way. I didn’t always feel this way. These feelings concerning BPA (an endocrine-disrupting chemical added to plastics to increase clarity and durability, and used in myriad other sources such as can linings, kitchen appliances, and water bottles) began to arise when I started working with CPR Member Scholars and fellow staff on BPA policy. The more I learned about BPA, the more I felt like its presence in my life was like mosquitoes in D.C.—a summer BBQ killjoy.
Then I became a parent, and the frustration and concern escalated, because the more I found out about BPA, the more I recognized that the industries using it did not truly understand how it affected my health, but more importantly, the health of my child. Even worse, the new approaches to testing its “safety” and potential adverse health effects were churning out new evidence of its dangers. Evidence that did not fit the traditional “risk assessment” model used by health and safety regulators and thus spurred no change in protective standards.Full text
A draft policy released for comment last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service took on the challenging question of defining the circumstances under which only a portion of an ailing species may be eligible for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, the Services’ proposal continued the agencies’ trend toward restrictively interpreting the ESA’s listing provisions. If finalized, the new policy will likely result in fewer protections for formerly widespread species, such as gray wolves, that now inhabit only a fraction of their former range.
The ESA defines “endangered species” as species in danger of extinction “throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” Litigation over the past decade raised a host of questions as to exactly what Congress meant by the latter phrase: Can the Services list a species as threatened or endangered in only a “significant portion” of its range even if the species is doing relatively well in other portions of its range? Does the “range” of a species mean its historic range or its current range? And just what is a “significant portion” of a species’ range?
Though such questions may seem rather arcane, they go to the heart of significant listing controversies under the ESA. Perhaps the highest profile dispute involves gray wolves, which last year became the first species delisted by Congressional fiat (though only in the Northern Rocky Mountains) in response to court decisions overturning FWS attempts to delist that population of the species. Wolves once roamed throughout much of North America, but were reduced to scattered remnant populations due to habitat loss and a persistent drive to exterminate them. They were listed as endangered in 1967 under a predecessor to the ESA. After reintroduction efforts in the 1990s established wolf populations in the Yellowstone ecosystem and central Idaho, FWS attempted to remove the Northern Rockies wolf population from the endangered roll even though the three populations in existence (including the northern Rockies in and around Glacier National Park in Montana) inhabited only a small fraction of the area over which wolves once roamed. But conservation advocates pointed out that wolves remained absent in a significant portion of their historic range, which they asserted meant that the species still fit into the ESA’s definition of endangered.Full text
This post was co-authored by CPR President Rena Steinzor and CPR Policy Analyst Aimee Simpson.
In what at first glance seemed to be a startlingly uncharacteristic move, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to update and strengthen its food additive regulation that sets out the approved uses for polycarbonate resins. For those who don’t speak plastic, “polycarbonate resin” refers to plastic that contains bisphenol-A or “BPA”—an endocrine-disrupting chemical with significant health risks, especially for babies. Polycarbonate resin is found in everything from reusable food and beverage containers, to tin can linings and thermal receipt paper.
While usually a staunch defender of unbridled BPA use in all things plastic, the ACC actually asked the FDA to remove approval for the use of BPA in “infant feeding bottles and certain spill-proof cups.” If this request has you scratching you head, you are not alone. Could it be that the ACC has finally surrendered to the mounting scientific evidence concerning BPA’s low-dose endocrine-disrupting effects and accepted that, at the very least, BPA should not be permitted in beverage vessels meant for children? Has the chemical industry beaten its swords into plowshares and made a small but progressive gesture toward better BPA regulation? Unfortunately, a look at the petition and its potential implications shows that the answer to these questions is “no.”
Thanks to consumer pressure and state and municipal legislative bans, major manufacturers of BPA no longer sell their products to the manufacturers of baby bottles and sippy cups. The ACC bases the petition on a portion of the FDA regulation that invites people to point out when manufacturers have abandoned old uses. But the ACC emphatically denies that BPA in baby products raises health concerns.
Instead, the ACC follows the by-now familiar route of blaming the victim—a.k.a. the consumer—for BPA’s removal. Under this rationale, manufacturers did not make these decisions on the basis of “scientific evidence or safety,” but rather were forced to remove the chemical because consumers are consumed by mass hysteria and forced the poor, beleaguered companies to do it. If it is able to rewrite the record in this way, the FDA will make a decision long desired by public health experts for all the wrong reasons, and the ACC will be able to claim that voluntary-abandonment-in-a-hostage-situation is the only real reason for the agency’s action.Full text
In May 2010, EPA sent a draft “Chemicals of Concern” list, including bisphenol A (BPA) and five other chemicals, to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review. The proposed list would be the first time EPA has used its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to publish such a list of chemicals that “may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” Today marks one year since OIRA exceeded the 120-day deadline for completing its review of EPA’s proposed chemicals of concern list.
The proposed list has met with fierce industry resistance, even though being added to the list only requires some minor additional reporting requirements. Between Jun. 2010 and Jan. 2011, OIRA hosted eight meetings to discuss the proposed list. Of those meetings, seven were with industry groups and trade associations including ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, the American Chemistry Council, and the Society of the Plastics Industry. One meeting was with public health and environmental advocacy groups including the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Listing carries no regulatory action. Manufacturers are required to comply with some additional reporting requirements, but only if EPA conducts additional rulemaking.
Industry groups object to chemicals being listed because they say the substances might obtain a stigma. But considering the chemicals on the list – BPA, phthalates, and flame retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – many of these already have a stigma because they have for years been linked with harmful health effects. Ultimately, stigma is not a strong argument, and attaching stigma to these chemicals is at least part of the point. EPA has a responsibility to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals, but its legal authority to regulate and reduce exposures to chemicals is weak under TSCA. The next best thing the agency can do is inform the public, and encourage companies to seek less dangerous alternatives.Full text
Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.
Tyler Zander, 17 and Bryce Gannon, 17 were working together on Thursday, August 4 at the Zaloudek Grain Co. in Kremlin, Oklahoma. They were operating a large floor grain aguer when something went terribly wrong. Oklahoma's News9.com reports that Bryce Gannon's legs became trapped in the auger, Tyler Zander went to his friend's aid and his legs also were pulled into the heavy machinery. Emergency rescue personnel had to cut apart the 12-inch metal auger in order to free the young men. They were flown 100 miles to Oklahoma City for surgery and they remain hospitalized.
The fatality rate for young workers performing hazardous tasks----like working with a grain auger-----is two times the fatality rate for all U.S. workers. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), administered by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (W&H) stipulates dozens of work activities that are too dangerous for workers of certain ages. Individuals under age 18, for example, are prohibited from working most jobs in coal mines, from forest-fire fighting, and from operating meat slicers and cardboard balers in grocery stores. However, the safety rules governing young workers employed in agricultural jobs have not been updated for 40 years.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in December 2010:
"Protecting children and vulnerable workers abroad is a part of our overall efforts here at the Department of Labor."
In fact, just a few weeks earlier, the Labor Department's Wage and Hour division sent a draft proposed rule to the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review. [Why they sent an economically non-significant proposed rule to OIRA is another matter, and one I've written about previously.] The draft rule proposes modifications to Subpart E-1 of 29 CFR 570, entitled "Occupations in Agriculture Particularly Hazardous for the Employment of Children Below the Age of 16." The proposed changes are based in part on evidence assembled several years ago by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on injuries and deaths among young workers employed in agricultural jobs.Full text
EPA made further progress this week in its efforts to move forward with a potential Bisphenol-A (BPA) Test Rule, publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in the Federal Register. Overall this progress is good news, though it’s not without its flaws.
EPA completed a draft of the ANPRM in December and sent it over to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review, pursuant to Executive Order 12866. Despite a 10-working-day deadline for review of ANPRMs, OIRA spent more than seven months on its review. OIRA’s edits were also released this week and placed in EPA’s docket.
Mind you, this ANPRM is not a notice for the actual BPA Test Rule, but rather a solicitation for comments and input on whether such a rule is necessary, and, if so, what procedures, target test sites, testing standards, and protocols would best serve the intended purpose of such a rule. The actual chemical test rule, authorized by section 4 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), would impose specific exposure monitoring and toxicity effects testing requirements on the processors, manufacturers, and importers of the subject chemical. For example, a sewage treatment plant might have to monitor how much BPA remains in the post-treatment sewage sludge that it distributes to farms, incinerators, and landfills, or a plastics manufacturer may have to conduct testing (most likely through a third party) on BPA’s low-dose toxicity effects on certain aquatic populations.Full text
Being a parent is not easy, but some of the most difficult moments arise when you know what needs to be done to protect your child and your child has other sentiments. Call it a temper tantrum, a battle of wills, or disobedience, it all evokes a sense of frustration, exhaustion, and, let’s face it, self-doubt. There is that brief moment when you think to yourself, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to let them have their way? Maybe I am being too harsh or paranoid? Is it really going to hurt them?” Unfortunately, for the EPA, these questions and many more weave their way into the complex and detailed decisions that the agency must make on a daily basis in its quasi-parental role. At its core, EPA exists to protect us from dangerous toxins, pollution, and multitudes of health hazards that plague our environment. The “children” with whom EPA deals on a daily basis range in form from individuals to corporations depending on the issue; however, recent events concerning Bisphenol A (BPA), a high production volume chemical used in manufacturing polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, starred the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in the role of the strong-willed child.
In March 2010, EPA released its BPA Action Plan, summarizing a variety of scientific findings concerning BPA’s risks and presence in our environment, while also outlining the agency’s intended next steps based on the science. Most of these next steps involved coordinated risk assessment efforts with other government research divisions, such as the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control. Additionally, EPA stated that it would “consider” taking steps to place BPA on a Chemicals of Concern List, authorized under section 5(b)(4) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and “consider” initiating an environmental effects test rule under section 4(a) of TSCA. In the grand scheme of EPA’s “parental” authority, the BPA Action Plan was a concerned look and word of caution.Full text
When you write a book, particularly one that has something to do with matters political, you have to expect criticism. So when I wrote Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants (Harvard, 2011), I fully expected it to take a shot or two – not just from some of my colleagues in academia, but also from allies of the chemical industry.
In fact, since this book isn’t exactly my first rodeo, I’ve grown accustomed to reviewers who sometimes misstate some of the specifics of what I’ve written or mangle an idea or two. But they’re usually mistakes made in good faith, or at least that’s been my impression.
So it came as a surprise to me to read the review of Legally Poisoned written by Henry Miller, M.S., M.D., of the Hoover Institution and adjunct fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Miller’s got a long history of working to defend potential hazards from regulation, including formerly as a trustee for the corporate funded American Council on Science and Health, so it’s no surprise he didn’t care for my book. What surprised me was that his review suggests that he didn’t bother to read much of it before attacking it.
Legally Poisoned is based on recent research into the developmental origins of disease, and it addresses risks posed to developing children by human-created chemicals. Some of those chemicals have already caused harm; others appear to pose serious risks. But disturbingly, we know very little about the nature of the toxicity for the vast majority, because we have insufficient research on their toxicity and how dangerous they might or might not be.Full text
In April, CPR released a paper that looked at 12 critical rulemaking activities that we urged the Obama administration to finish by June 2012. The new regulatory agendas released by the agencies earlier this month show that instead of moving forward, the agencies are often slowing down. Contrary to the “tsunami” of regulations that the Chamber of Commerce claims is hampering economic recovery, this is a molasses flow that will delay life-saving public protections for workers, air breathers and water drinkers.
One rule that was on track in April is now definitely off track: an update to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for particulate matter. Another rule that was on track is now probably off track: the Power Plant New Source Performance Standards for limiting greenhouse gases were pushed back from May 2012 to Jun 2012, which is the deadline we identified to complete rules in Obama’s first term (after that point, re-election politics will likely stifle any continued efforts to finish important rulemakings, and, in any event, rules completed after that point risk being overturned under the Congressional Review Act if Republicans are able to win both houses of Congress and the White House in the 2012 elections).
All or parts of eight of the rulemaking activities highlighted in the paper have been severely delayed since the paper was released in April:
Editor's Note: This morning, CPR President Rena Steinzor will testify at a House hearing regarding EPA's Integrated Risk Information System chemical database (full testimony). This post by NRDC Senior Attorney Daniel Rosenberg, cross-posted from Switchboard, explains the importance of IRIS and how the program is under attack.
Thursday morning, the House Science Committee’s Investigation and Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on EPA’s premier program for assessing the dangers of chemicals. It is called the IRIS program, (which stands for Integrated Risk Information System). The IRIS program looks at the science available on the potential dangers of a chemical and determines what hazard that chemical may pose – such as causing cancer, birth defects, diseases, etc., and what level of exposure, if any, is likely to be without an appreciable risk of harm. The IRIS program doesn’t issue regulations; it is focused on assessment of chemical hazards. But other parts of EPA, such as the air program and the water program, rely upon the IRIS assessments in setting their health standards to protect people from toxic chemicals. Other states and countries also rely upon the IRIS assessments.
Because of the importance of IRIS assessments for determining what types of harm a chemical might cause, and what levels of exposure may or may not be safe, the assessments conducted by IRIS are constantly scrutinized, challenged, and attacked by the chemical industry. New or updated assessments by the IRIS program that suggest greater harm from a chemical than was previously recognized are particularly anathema to the chemical industry, and they will do whatever it takes to prevent such determinations from being finalized. Industry’s campaign has been so successful, that in 2009 the GAO added the IRIS program to its (short) list of federal programs being at “high risk” of failure, due to its completing so few assessments that it would become irrelevant. (The GAO decision was based in part on the problems with the IRIS program, and in part with the problems with the TSCA program). The GAO will testify at Thursday’s hearing.Full text