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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While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeff Turrentine
Tamara Lindeman certainly doesn't seem particularly anxious, or grief stricken, or angry. In fact, in a recent Zoom conversation, the Toronto-based singer-songwriter (who records and performs under the name The Weather Station) comes across as friendly, thoughtful, and a little shy.
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