Company Safety Data Sheets on New Chemicals Frequently Lack the Worker Protections EPA Claims They Include
By Richard Denison
Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).
The typical course has been for EPA to identify risks to workers from a new chemical it is reviewing under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), but then — instead of issuing an order imposing binding conditions on the chemical's entry onto the market, as TSCA requires — to find that the chemical is "not likely to present an unreasonable risk" and impose no conditions whatsoever on its manufacturer. This sleight of hand is pulled off by EPA stating that it:
expects employers will require and workers will use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) … consistent with the Safety Data Sheet prepared by the new chemical submitter, in a manner adequate to protect them.
We have detailed earlier the myriad ways in which this approach strays from the law, is bad policy and won't protect workers. But here's yet another gaping problem: When we are able to look at the actual SDSs — that is, when EPA has made them available and when they are not totally redacted — we are frequently finding that the specific PPE that EPA claims to be specified in the SDSs — and that EPA asserts is sufficient to protect all workers handling the chemical — is not in the SDSs.
EDF recently examined the SDSs for each of five new chemicals where EPA has declared them "not likely to present an unreasonable risk" and included the language I cited above. EPA has also included the five in a proposed Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) that would require companies to notify EPA if they intend to use a chemical in a particular manner that EPA has defined as a "significant new use." On Monday, EDF filed extensive critical comments on those proposed SNURs.
The reason we are focusing here on these chemicals is because, by law, EPA had to establish a rulemaking docket for the SNUR and place in that docket certain supporting documents pertaining to each new chemical. Among those documents is (supposed to be) the chemical's corresponding SDS.
Unfortunately, for two of the five chemicals (identified as P-18-0073 and P-19-0010, because the companies claimed their actual identities to be confidential), EPA failed to provide a copy of the SDS in its docket even though it is part of the documentation the company was required to submit to EPA. For another of the five (P-17-0239), the copy of the SDS EPA included in the docket is totally redacted — even though much if not all of its content comprises health and safety information not eligible for confidential business information (CBI) protection under TSCA and, for the remainder, there is no evidence EPA has reviewed and approved any CBI claims the company asserted for the SDS.
That leaves us with the SDSs for the remaining two cases (P-18-0048and P-18-0122), which are unredacted. Now we can compare what they specify by way of PPE to the specific PPE that EPA relied on in determining these chemicals are "not likely to present an unreasonable risk."
P-18-0048: Here is what the "not likely" determination document for P-18-0048 states:
Risks to workers: Reproductive toxicity via dermal exposure; corrosion to all tissues via dermal and inhalation exposures.
PPE EPA relies on: EPA identifies as "appropriate PPE" the use of "impervious gloves and a respirator." EPA goes on to state:
EPA expects that employers will require and workers will use appropriate personal protective equipment, including dermal and respiratory protection with an Assigned Protection Factor [APF] of 50, consistent with the Safety Data Sheet submitted with the PMN [premanufacture notice], in a manner adequate to protect them. (p. 6, emphasis added)
The associated SDS does recommend wearing "protective gloves," "suitable protective equipment," and "appropriate chemical resistant gloves." Its only reference to respiratory protection, however, is this:
[I]n the case of insufficient ventilation, wear suitable respiratory equipment.
Nowhere does the SDS specify use of a respirator with an APF of 50. The SDS is clearly not consistent with EPA's own description of it.
P-18-0122: Here is what the "not likely" determination document for P-18-0122 states:
Risks to workers: Lung toxicity via inhalation; irritation to skin, eyes, lung and GI tract.
PPE EPA relies on:
Risks will be mitigated if exposures are controlled by the use of appropriate PPE, including respiratory protection with an APF of 10. Risks could not be quantified for irritation hazards, but appropriate PPE, including impervious gloves and protective eye wear, would mitigate concerns. EPA expects that employers will require and workers will use appropriate personal protective equipment (i.e., impervious gloves, protective eye wear, and a respirator), consistent with the Safety Data Sheet prepared by the PMN submitter, in a manner adequate to protect them. (pp. 5-6, emphases added)
While the corresponding SDS does recommend certain types of gloves and safety glasses, it specifically states:
Other protective equipment is not generally required under normal working conditions.
The only mention of use of a respirator anywhere in the SDS is where an OSHA regulatory workplace standard is exceeded – which is clearly not the case here, as no such standards exist for the new chemical. Nowhere does the SDS specify use of a respirator with an APF of 10. Here again, the SDS is clearly not consistent with EPA's own description of it.
Other Recent Cases Found
This finding spurred us to look further at other "not likely" determinations and the corresponding SDSs. This is slower-going, because there is no electronically accessible docket. That's not only because EPA has not proposed a SNUR for other new chemicals to which it recently gave the green light; it's also because EPA has failed to comply with its own regulations requiring it to provide electronic access to all new chemical submissions it receives.
As we have described elsewhere, EDF has had no choice but to request the "public files" for these chemicals through EPA's Docket Center, which can take several weeks (they come by snail mail on a CD-ROM).
I looked at a number of recent new chemicals EPA has green-lighted for which we have received public files. In one case no SDS was provided in the public file, while in two others the SDS was there but again totally redacted. In some of the remaining cases the SDS recommended PPE that matched that EPA described in its "not likely" document, or at least came close.
But in other cases, there was not a match. Here are two examples:
P-19-0021/22: Here is what the "not likely" determination document for P-19-0021 and P-19-0022 states:
Risks to workers: Lung overload via inhalation.
PPE EPA relies on:
Risks will be mitigated if exposures are controlled by the use of appropriate PPE, including a respirator with APF of 50. EPA expects that workers will use appropriate PPE consistent with the SDS prepared by the PMN submitter, in a manner adequate to protect them. (p. 5, emphases added)
The associated SDS makes only this reference to respiratory protection:
Respiratory protection: Mist respirator, include single use respirator
Nowhere does the SDS specify use of a respirator with an APF of 50. The SDS is clearly not consistent with EPA's own description of it.
P-18-0212: Here is what the "not likely" determination document for P-18-0212 states:
Risks to workers: Systemic effects via inhalation exposure; portal of entry/contact effects to the eyes, lungs and skin following ocular, inhalation, and dermal exposures
PPE EPA relies on:
The risks and hazards identified will be mitigated if exposures are controlled by the use of appropriate PPE, including impervious gloves, respirators with an APF of at least 10, and eye protection. EPA expects that workers will use appropriate personal protective equipment (i.e., impervious gloves, respirator with an APF of at least 10, and eye protection), consistent with the Safety Data Sheet submitted with the PMN, in a manner adequate to protect them. (p. 5, emphases added)
The associated SDS makes this reference to respiratory protection:
Respiratory Protection: For operations where inhalation exposure can occur use an approved respirator. Recommendations are listed below. Other protective respiratory equipment may be used based on user's own risk assessment. Recommended respirators include those certified by NIOSH.
Recommended: Full Face Mask with a combination particulate/organic vapor cartridge.
Nowhere does the SDS specify use of a respirator with an APF of 10. The SDS is clearly not consistent with EPA's own description of it.
In each of these cases, EPA identified a particular type of respirator as necessary for its finding that the chemical is not likely to present an unreasonable risk, and in each case, EPA asserted that the corresponding SDS specified that type of equipment. But in fact, in each case, the SDS does not specify that type of respirator. EPA's decisions run counter to the actual evidence before the agency, and EPA has actually mischaracterized that evidence. That amounts to arbitrary decision-making. Practically speaking, this mismatch means that workers could follow the SDS to a T and be using a respirator that is not sufficient to protect them against the chemical's identified risks.
As we have noted before, EPA's reliance on SDS-recommended PPE flouts the law and falls vastly short of what TSCA requires EPA to do to protect workers. Amended TSCA requires EPA to issue binding orders to mitigate identified risks posed to workers by new chemicals, which it has identified in each of the cases we cite above. EPA's mere "expectation" that PPE will universally be available, used and effective is wholly insufficient to address the identified risks. The recommendations in an SDS are not binding on employers, neither on manufacturers nor on other companies downstream in supply chains. Failure to always use PPE or for it always to be effective is clearly reasonably foreseeable, and EPA is required to mitigate risks from "reasonably foreseen conditions of use" of a new chemical. PPE is the option of last resort under the longstanding Industrial Hygiene Hierarchy of Controls adopted by OSHA and embraced by the industrial hygiene community. Reliance on expected use of PPE shifts the burden of protection off of EPA and employers and onto the backs of workers.
Now, we find that even the PPE EPA identifies as necessary to be in an SDS in order to determine that a new chemical is not likely to present an unreasonable risk is frequently absent from the SDS. Even under its own flawed theories, EPA is utterly failing to protect workers from the risks of these chemicals.
How much farther under the bus will the Trump EPA throw American workers?
Richard Denison is a lead senior scientist with Environmental Defense Fund.
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By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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