EPA Is Hiding Information About New Chemicals: Green Groups Sue to Stop the Secrecy
When Congress updated the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 2016 for the first time in 40 years, public health and environmental advocates hoped it would be a game-changer for protecting Americans from dangerous chemicals, enabling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finally ban harmful substances like asbestos.
But under President Donald Trump, the EPA has consistently failed to take advantage of the new law. It has declined to ban asbestos, and has even violated requirements that it keep the public informed about the approval of new chemicals, an investigation by Earthjustice and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) revealed. That's why Earthjustice is representing five environmental groups in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the EPA.
"Congress reformed TSCA just a few years ago to protect people's health from new chemicals. It said, unequivocally, that the public has a right to know about these chemicals before they are put out on the market," Earthjustice attorney Tosh Sagar said in a press release. "Trump's EPA instead hides health and safety studies and other key information, just so that industry can have it easier. Ignoring TSCA's transparency requirements makes it more likely that dangerous chemicals are reaching our homes and workplaces."
The Earthjustice and EDF investigation, also published Wednesday, reviewed 204 out of around 1,100 chemical applications the EPA had received between August 2016 and April 2019. It also examined all the public notices that the agency issued for around 1,700 new applications through early 2020. It found that the EPA had routinely violated a stipulation of the new TSCA amendment that the public be informed of the approval process for new chemicals so that it could weigh in before the chemical was put on the market.
The agency concealed information in three key ways, the investigation found.
1. It did not inform the public of new applications in a timely manner: The EPA is supposed to notify the public within five days of receiving a new chemical application. However, the investigation found that the average notice was published 87 days after the application was received, even though the EPA has 90 days to approve a chemical. One in six notices were published after the chemical was already approved.
2. The EPA has withheld key safety information: The agency is supposed to publish all applications online, but instead forces the public to request them via a labyrinthine process. Further, it allows companies to redact or withhold health and safety studies as confidential business information (CBI) despite a legal requirement to publicize all health and safety information.
3. The EPA doesn't evaluate CBI claims: The agency is required by law to audit 25 percent of CBI claims to make sure companies are not abusing the designation to withhold important information. It is then supposed to publish its decision. But the EPA has not published any reviews of CBI claims, and has only completed reviews of claims in 27 applications, far below 25 percent of the 1,250 it has completed safety reviews for.
In one case, this secrecy involved a new type of PFAS, a class of chemical already contaminating U.S. drinking water. The EPA's career scientists found that the new substance could cause respiratory illnesses like asthma and alter DNA, leading to cancer. Nevertheless, it was approved in April 2019 and almost all of the documents provided by the company were never shared with the public.
"When it comes to toxic chemicals and Trump's EPA, this secrecy is the norm. It's not just illegal, it puts workers and families across the country at risk," the investigators wrote.
Earthjustice, acting on behalf of EDF, Environmental Health Strategy Center, Center for Environmental Health, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, threatened to sue the EPA over the violations in September 2019. The agency promised to improve the application vetting process, but the coalition considered its changes inadequate.
"Unleashing chemicals into the market without proper vetting is like opening Pandora's box," the coalition said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. "EPA must stop hiding key information about the chemicals it is reviewing and put public health above the desires of the chemical industry."The EPA did not comment on a story in The Hill about the lawsuit, saying it did not weigh in on ongoing litigation.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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