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August 15, 2017

Maine-based environmental center sues EPA over toxic chemical rules

Photo / Environmental Health Strategy Center
Photo / Environmental Health Strategy Center
Mike Belliveau is the executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a nonprofit based in Portland that has joined joined two lawsuits challenging the Environmental Protection Agency for rewriting rules that determine how the agency will regulate toxic chemicals.

The Portland-based Environmental Health Strategy Center has joined two lawsuits challenging the Environmental Protection Agency for rewriting rules that determine how the agency will regulate toxic chemicals found in consumer products, building materials and workplaces as well as in drinking water and food.

Earthjustice, the nation's largest nonprofit environmental law organization, is representing the center as well as organizations advocating for scientists, consumers, workers, Alaska Natives, people from low-income communities of color and parents and teachers of children with learning disabilities. Earthjustice filed the complaint Friday in federal court in San Francisco.

Specifically, the lawsuits challenge two EPA regulations that set ground rules for how the EPA will prioritize chemicals for safety review and evaluate the risks of those chemicals under the recently updated Toxic Substances Control Act.

According to a news release from the center, the rules will play a crucial role in whether the EPA fulfills its mission of protecting families and workers across the country from chemical risks or allows chemicals known to harm human health, like asbestos, to get a free pass.

"Obviously, it's total exposure to a chemical, from all sources combined, that most endangers the health of pregnant women, children and workers," said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center. "Yet, the Trump EPA deliberately bypassed the law's clear requirement that safety assessments be based on all uses of a chemical. By allowing some or even most chemical uses to be ignored, the EPA proposes to do the very thing the new law was intended to halt: allow the chemical industry to continue to produce and sell toxic chemicals that pose unacceptable risks to human health."

Basis for the lawsuit

In 2016, Congress overhauled the Toxic Substances Control Act for the first time in 40 years, requiring the EPA to conduct comprehensive risk evaluations of chemicals without regard to cost. The act gave special attention to the risks posed to vulnerable populations. Proposed rules for implementing the new requirements were issued for comment, but never finalized, under the Obama administration.

President Trump's EPA has now issued final rules that are dramatically weakened from the proposed rules, according to the Environmental Health Strategy Center.

The suits, technically referred to as "Petitions for Review," ask the court to determine if the EPA rules were crafted in accordance with the law's requirements and if the EPA followed the legal requirements for promulgation of new regulations.

The two rules in question are the "Procedures for Prioritization of Chemicals for Risk Evaluation Under the Toxic Substances Control Act," and the "Procedures for Chemical Risk Evaluation Under the Amended Toxic Substances Control Act."

Eve Gartner, an attorney at Earthjustice, said the lawsuit seeks to hold the Trump administration's EPA accountable "to the letter of the law and ensuring it fulfills its mandate to protect the public."

In addition to the Strategy Center, the other organizations joining the suit are WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Learning Disabilities Association of America, United Steelworkers, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Working Group, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Sierra Club​, Vermont PIRG​ and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

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