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Environmental and Consumer Groups Sue Trump Administration over Toxic Chemical Regulations

The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and Cape Fear River Watch have sued the Trump administration over its rules for regulating toxic chemicals in consumer products and the workplace. Filed in a Richmond federal court, the lawsuit challenges what NRDC describes in a 14 August press release as two industry-friendly rules adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency in July that set forth how the agency plans to prioritise chemicals and evaluate their health risks under the revised Toxic Substances Control Act.

The first rule issued by the EPA establishes the process and criteria the agency will use to identify chemical substances as either high-priority substances for risk evaluation or low-priority substances for which risk evaluations are not warranted at the time. Prioritisation is the first step in a new process of existing chemical substance review and management established under recent amendments to the TSCA. This rule describes the processes for formally initiating the prioritisation process on a selected candidate, providing opportunities for public comment, screening the candidate against certain criteria, and proposing and finalising designations of priority.

A second rule establishes a process for conducting risk evaluations to determine whether a chemical substance presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment (without consideration of costs or other non-risk factors) under the conditions of use. The EPA is required to mitigate any risks determined to exist, which could include labelling requirements, use restrictions or outright bans. This rule identifies the steps of a risk evaluation process, including scope, hazard assessment, exposure assessment, risk characterisation and risk determination. This process will be used for the first ten chemical substances undergoing evaluation from the 2014 update of the TSCA work plan for chemical assessments (to the maximum extent practicable). Chemical substances designated as high-priority substances during the prioritisation process, and those for which the EPA has initiated a risk evaluation in response to a manufacturer request, will always be subject to this process. The rule also establishes the process by which manufacturers would make such requests and the criteria by which the EPA will evaluate them.

The plaintiffs believe these rules favour the “chemical industry’s narrow interests ahead of the health of all Americans” by creating loopholes for chemical companies. The rules ostensibly give the EPA nearly unlimited discretion to decide which uses of a chemical it considers to determine whether the chemical poses an unreasonable health risk. In addition, consumer and environmental groups have criticised the fact that the EPA’s toxics office is now headed by a former top official for the chemical industry’s lobbying group.

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