EPA administrator Michael Regan
The Environmental Protection Agency approved a component of boat fuel made from discarded plastic that the agency’s own risk formula determined was so hazardous, everyone exposed to the substance continually over a lifetime would be expected to develop cancer. Current and former EPA scientists said that threat level is unheard of. It is a million times higher than what the agency usually considers acceptable for new chemicals and six times worse than the risk of lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking.
Federal law requires the EPA to conduct safety reviews before allowing new chemical products onto the market. If the agency finds that a substance causes unreasonable risk to health or the environment, the EPA is not allowed to approve it without first finding ways to reduce that risk.
But the agency did not do that in this case. Instead, the EPA decided its scientists were overstating the risks and gave Chevron the go-ahead to make the new boat fuel ingredient at its refinery in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Though the substance can poison the air and contaminate water, EPA officials mandated no remedies other than requiring workers to wear gloves, records show.
The risk assessment makes it clear that cancer is not the only problem. Some of the new fuels pose additional risks to infants, the document said, but the EPA didn’t quantify the effects or do anything to limit those harms, and the agency wouldn’t answer questions about them.
Six environmental organizations concerned about the risks from the fuels — the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Moms Clean Air Force, Toxic-Free Future, Environmental Defense Fund, and Beyond Plastics — are challenging the agency’s characterization of the cancer risks. “EPA’s assertion that the assumptions in the risk assessment are overly conservative is not supported,” the groups wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to EPA administrator Michael Regan. The groups accused the agency of failing to protect people from dangers posed by the fuels and urged the EPA to withdraw the consent order approving them:
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EPA Approved a Fuel Ingredient Even Though It Could Cause Cancer in Virtually Every Person Exposed Over a Lifetime
“Forever Chemicals” Makers Hid Dangers for Decades
Request for Toxicological Information – ‘Teflon’ Division Chemicals
The manufacturers of “forever chemicals” used in products like nonstick pans and waterproof clothing knew about the dangers their materials posed more than 40 years before the general public, according to previously secret industry documents. By following the same playbook as Big Tobacco, including suppression of their own research, the companies successfully stymied regulation for decades while the cancer-causing chemicals became ubiquitous in the water, air, and soil.
While the human health risks became widely known during the last decade, manufacturers have known since at least 1970 that the compounds were “highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when ingested,” according to the industry documents obtained through litigation and reviewed by public health researchers at UCSF.
Major manufacturers are already spending billions to settle lawsuits and millions fighting federal regulations, including landmark environmental rules proposed this spring. The revealing industry documents, analyzed in a new study from researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), could bolster efforts to hold the companies accountable for widespread contamination from chemicals that take hundreds of years to break down. The manufacturer 3M is reportedly preparing to pay $10 billion to settle claims that it polluted thousands of public water systems, but the cost of cleaning up the chemicals in drinking water nationwide will likely top $400 billion.
So far, 74 percent of schools that submitted samples found at least one faucet or drinking fountain with high lead levels. Many of those schools are still trying to trace the source of the problem and find the money for long-term fixes.
In his Feb. 7 State of the Union address, President Joe Biden said the infrastructure bill he championed in 2021 will help fund the replacement of lead pipes that serve “400,000 schools and child care centers, so every child in America can drink clean water.”
Review the policies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia
However, as of mid-February, states were still waiting to hear how much infrastructure money they’ll receive, and when. And schools are trying to figure out how to respond to toxic levels of lead now. The federal government hasn’t required schools and child care centers to test for lead, though it has awarded grants to states for voluntary testing.
O n a recent day in Philipsburg, Montana, a 19th-century mining town turned tourist hot spot, students made their way into the Granite High School lobby and past a new filtered water bottle fill station.