Corporate polluters won two big victories recently, but you only heard about one. That was president Obama’s decision to block EPA from issuing cleaner smog standards. His decision provoked such outrage across the country that the White House switchboard was jammed by angry callers.
You didn’t hear about the second because, according to multiple sources, the White House worked behind the scenes to stop EPA from issuing a hazard assessment of the cancer-causing chemical TCE – and is working to effectively shut down the EPA’s program for assessing the hazards of chemicals – the basis for setting and updating health standards for drinking water, air quality, and clean-up of contaminated soil. TCE (Trichloroethylene) is a widely-used solvent and is one of the most commonly found chemicals at Superfund sites across the country. You may recall it was TCE that gave kids leukemia in Woburn, MA and because the subject of a famous book and movie, A Civil Action.
EPA was set to release its final updated assessment of TCE on Friday, September 2nd, (the same day the Administration blocked EPA from issuing a new health standard for ozone). The updated assessment concludes that TCE is a known human carcinogen (whether you drink it, breath it, or absorb it through your skin), and causes even more chronic diseases than previously thought. In addition to cancer, TCE has been linked with harmful effects to the central nervous system, kidney, liver, immune system, male reproductive system, and developing fetus. Because the updated assessment would lay the groundwork for more protective cleanup standards and exposure limits, the chemical industry has fought for more than twenty years to prevent EPA from updating its assessment – along with the Departments of Energy and Defense, which created a lot of those Superfund sites. Meanwhile, the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, and the National Academies of Science have consistently endorsed EPA’s updated assessment. In 2006, the National Academies recommended that EPA finalize its assessment so that efforts to reduce exposure to TCE could be made “expeditiously.” Friday came and went, but the TCE assessment was not released. The same day draft assessments of two other chemicals – (1,4 dioxane and n-Butanol) that had been made available for public comment on August 31st were mysteriously rendered “temporarily unavailable”.