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The EPA Will Begin Regulating These 10 Chemicals as Potentially Toxic

Asbestos makes the list, but the others are less well known. And the big question remains: will the agency be able to keep doing this under President Trump?

The decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has gotten an injection of new life. This past June, President Obama signed an act meant to update the old law so that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could refocus its energy on mitigating the dangers that existing chemical substances present to human health. Yesterday , as required by the amendment, the EPA released its list of the first ten chemicals it plans on assessing under the reformed TSCA. The hit list features some well known enemies like asbestos, as well as some lesser known dangers like 1,4-dioxane, a possible carcinogen from consumer products that is highly prevalent in groundwater and indoor environments.


Why the TSCA Was Reformed

Unlike the Clean Air and Water Acts which are partially designed to clean pollutants out of those environments, the TSCA was created in 1976 to stop toxic chemicals from entering the environment in the first place, by banning their use or encouraging industry to move to safer alternatives. It also helped regulate already existing dangerous chemicals like lead, mercury, and radon. The act had gotten a little stale over the years, however, and after public health disasters like the Flint, Michigan water crisis, it became clear that it needed to be strengthened.

So in a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in June 2016. The wordy piece of legislation was not only a reminder to the EPA that it needed to focus on these toxic chemicals, but also acknowledged that the Agency needed more funding to do so, which Congress promises to give.

The Chemical List

The EPA was given some tight deadlines to meet under the reformed TSCA. Within 180 days of the act being signed, the Agency needed to have 10 different risk evaluations of existing chemicals underway. If any of these is eventually determined to "present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment," then the EPA is expected to take whatever actions needed to mitigate the risks within two years. The ten chemicals the EPA listed yesterday were picked due to the hazards they pose, and their potential for public exposure. Here they are:


  • 1,4-Dioxane
  • 1-Bromopropane
  • Asbestos
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Cyclic Aliphatic Bromide Cluster
  • Methylene Chloride
  • N-methylpyrrolidone
  • Pigment Violet 29
  • Tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene
  • Trichloroethylene

Let's look at two of them more closely:


Asbestos is a mineral fiber naturally found in rock and soil that's often used as insulation and fire retardant in building construction materials because of its heat resistant properties. It's also used in a variety of plastics and in car clutches and brakes. The EPA describes asbestos as a "known carcinogen" that can be inhaled. Exposure to it can result in lung cancer or a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma.

1, 4-Dioxane

Dioxane is a purifying agent used in manufacturing pharmaceuticals as well as a byproduct of the creation of certain plastics. It's also used in certain paint strippers, greases and waxes. It doesn't biodegrade easily and leeches from the soil into groundwater, which has serious human health implications. The EPA says that 1,4-dioxane is "likely to be carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure." Most unsettling is the fact that there is no federal maximum contamination level in drinking water for it.

How will the EPA regulate these going forward?

That's the big question. The President-elect Donald Trump has made no efforts to hide his disdain for the EPA and for any kind of environmental regulation at all, for that matter. During the Republican primary debates he remarked that "We are going to get rid of it [the EPA] in almost every form. We're going to have little tidbits left but we're going to take a tremendous amount out." And while he has hinted at having a little bit more of an open mind on climate change after repeatedly denying its existence, he is still poised to install a staunch climate change skeptic, Myron Ebell, as head of the EPA.

Given the politicized nature—albeit misguided—of climate change science, it's definitely not a stretch to see climate change legislation getting rolled back by a Trump administration. But the President-elect may find some pushback from voters if he tries to gut the agency that ensures clean air and water. With that in mind, it's reasonable to think the reformed TSCA will continue unabated.

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