Big changes afoot for US chemical risk evaluations


EPA seeks to restore trust and protect vulnerable populations from chemical exposures

Facing lawsuits and criticism from scientists, environmental groups, and the chemical industry, the US Environmental Protection Agency is overhauling its approach for evaluating risks associated with high-priority chemicals that are already on the market. According to Michal Freedhoff, head of the EPA’s chemicals office, the changes will impact the first 10 assessments completed by the Trump administration under the amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). They will also affect the next 24 assessments, which the EPA has already begun, and those that the agency conducts in the future.

The changes include assessing exposure to chemicals from air and water, as well as from land disposal. During the Trump administration, the EPA disregarded such pathways, claiming that they were already regulated by other statutes, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. For 6 of the first 10 chemicals, the EPA will develop a screening approach that uses existing ambient air and surface-water data to evaluate risks to fenceline communities that border industrial facilities.

The EPA also plans to reopen its assessment of the solvent 1,4-dioxane, a widespread drinking-water contaminant, to determine whether drinking water and air exposure pose unreasonable risks to the general population. The agency will also evaluate occupational exposures to 1,4-dioxane generated as a manufacturing by-product that were not considered in its previous assessments.

One change that will affect all the first 10 chemical evaluations is a plan to abandon a use-by-use approach for determining risks. The EPA will continue analyzing risks for each specific use but will make only one unreasonable risk determination for chemicals that have significant risks across multiple uses.

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Chemical & Engineering News, 8 July 2021