Business/Finance

When is that chemical toxic? Ask the industry-guided EPA

Industry’s concerns trump social concern. Economic activity trumps social concern.

If you’d like a reason to be cynical about whether government favors you or favors an industry, look no further than a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA safer choice logoThe EPA has decided to review 10 chemicals in public use but considered toxic by many scientists. However, the EPA will only assess the risk of these chemicals in terms of direct human contact. A law passed by Congress in 2016 requires the EPA to assess toxicity risk in hundreds of chemicals to determine whether they should be further regulated or even removed from the market, according to The New York Times.

Under potential review are chemicals in common commercial products. Take, for example, the chemical often used to dry clean your clothes, the solvent perchloroethylene. Yes, it will clean your Sunday best, but it’s nasty stuff. Also on the list is 1,4-dioxane. You might find it in your deodorant, your shampoos, or your cosmetics. Its use, too, might not be in your best interest.

But the EPA’s review, taken at behest of Congress, will be limited to only direct contact. Members of Congress, says The Times, argue the 2016 law calls for comprehensive analysis of risk. That would include contamination of air, land, and water in addition to direct contact.

So how does the EPA ignore the will of Congress? (Well, maybe not. A coalition has challenged this in the Ninth Circuit’s court of appeals in San Francisco.)

The EPA can flout because of the chemical industry’s clout. President Donald’s appointee to head its toxic chemicals unit, Nancy B. Beck, worked for the American Chemical Council. Her assistant, Erik Baptist, served as a lawyer for the American Petroleum Institute. Beck, while at the council, had argued the Obama administration ought to narrow the scope of such toxicity reviews. Now at the EPA, she’s in charge. Result: Scope narrowed.

epa-certified-toxic-chemicals

Industry’s concerns trump social concern. More productive economic activity — enhanced by rushed, hasty deregulation — trumps social concern. The EPA’s decision to step backward in toxicity reviews mirrors its other, recent actions that would minimize environmental protection (a goal inherent in the agency’s name) and increase health and safety risks for human beings like you and me. The agency seeks to roll back more than 60 environmental regulations. Fortunately, many are being challenged in court.

I suppose I ought to be shocked. I’m not. Dismayed? Yes. Angry? Yes. Surprised? Hell, no.

Name an administration in which industry has not played a significant role in determining how it’s regulated. Name a session of Congress that did not use industry lobbyists to write regulations (and tax rules) that benefit industry while raising costs to consumers and increasing risks to their health and safety.

If you’re older, like me, you’ve seen this American dynamic playing out over decades. If you’re young, you’re going to see this continue. But, if you’re young, recognize this inherent, political, and pragmatic part of how the Republic operates. Recognize it, learn about it, so you can demand change.

Enter journalists. We know about the EPA’s toxicity decision because journalists, despite EPA’s recalcitrant attitude toward willingly providing information to them, still do their jobs. They tell people what they need to know. (Note that the EPA and other federal agencies in the President Donald administration have removed information paid for by citizens’ taxes from their websites, claiming they’ve only removed “outdated language.”)

Despite claims by ideologues, journalists primarily deal with facts. (You, the readers and viewers, get to decide if those facts represent some kind of truth.)

If you’re young (or old, or in between), and you want the EPA to act as if protecting the environment (and public health and safety) matters more than industry’s influence, then insist journalists do their jobs — keep covering the EPA intelligently, insistently, and dispassionately.

Anywhere you find industry trumping common sense and common concern for public health and safety, demand more from journalists. Politicians will lie to you. Industry’s flacks and advertising will deceive you.

Journalists will provide information gathered through hard work. You decide how to use that information. (You ought to listen to scientists, too … if they’re not working for or are solely funded by an industry. If they are, ask questions to determine the independence of their research.)

Now think again how you’ll clean that wine-stained pair of pants or that favorite sweater.

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