By Alexandra Dapolito Dunn
Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention
It’s important to get as many facts as you can when making a decision. It’s no different for us in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. When we make a decision about whether or not a chemical poses unreasonable risks to public health or the environment, it’s imperative that we consider all kinds of facts like the effects of the chemical on humans or the environment, the severity of the hazard, who is exposed (including any sensitive subpopulations like children), and how people or the environment are exposed under the uses of the chemical.
We also must follow the law. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requires EPA to determine whether chemicals in the marketplace present unreasonable risks to health or the environment. It also requires that our risk evaluations are transparent and include a robust systematic review of the available science.
EPA is working as quickly as possible to develop and issue our risk evaluations in accordance with the law. The 2016 amendments to TSCA and its implementing regulations set new, higher standards for EPA to follow when evaluating the potential risks from existing chemicals. Ensuring that our risk evaluations meet the highest standards will help expedite any necessary future risk management actions.
While we’re only in the beginning stages of our risk evaluation efforts, the fact is that the findings we’ve made so far may change. After publishing a draft risk evaluation, we get comments from the public and through our scientific peer review process and then we issue a final risk evaluation. This final risk evaluation may differ from the draft as we account for the peer review and public input. After completing the final risk evaluation, the law gives us up to two years to issue regulations to address identified unreasonable risks.
You also might be wondering, why doesn’t EPA just ban some chemicals immediately. TSCA does allow us to place restrictions on chemicals that are an imminent hazard, meaning the chemical could cause widespread injury to human health or the environment. The fact is, the information we’ve reviewed for the draft risk evaluations we’ve completed so far, doesn’t indicate that this action is necessary.
It is worth noting however, we did take decisive action in March 2019, when we banned consumer sales of paint and coating removal products containing methylene chloride to protect public health.
Another fact is that if you’re concerned about using any chemicals, there are things you can do right now to limit your exposure. We strongly recommend that users carefully follow all instructions on the product’s label/safety data sheet. To the extent that consumers want to avoid exposure to certain chemicals, they should consider not using products that contain those chemicals. But the fact remains, that because all our risk findings to date are still preliminary, the public and regulated community are not required to take any action based on our draft risk evaluations.
And, the last fact I’ll share with you is that the health and safety of people and the planet is always at the heart of our decision-making and we look forward to continuing the dialogue as our chemicals continue to go through these risk evaluations.
About the author: Alexandra Dapolito Dunn is the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Prior to that she served as the Regional Administrator for EPA Region 1, and her responsibilities included overseeing the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and ten tribal nations. Read more.