EPA Adds New Toxic Chemical to Air Pollution List for First Time in 30 Years

Health + Wellness
dry cleaner

A popular dry-cleaning solvent has been added to the national list of hazardous air pollutants. Photo credit: Moodboard / Image Source / Getty Images

For the first time in more than 30 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has added a new chemical to its list of hazardous air pollutants. 

The chemical in question is 1-bromopropane, a solvent used by dry cleaners, auto shops and other businesses. The rule adding the pollutant was posted to the Federal Register on Wednesday and goes into effect February 4. 

“I hate the term no-brainer, but this is a no-brainer,” Adam M. Finkel, former director of the health standards programs at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, told The Washington Post. “It’s a toxic air pollutant, so it belongs on the list of toxic air pollutants.”

For Finkel, who sounded the alarm over 1-bromopropane 20 years ago, the addition is a long time coming. 

In 1990, Congress strengthened the Clean Air Act by creating a list of more than 180 hazardous air pollutants. The EPA was supposed to be able to add to this list as needed, yet has never done so until now. 

“[EPA regulators] have trouble consistently following the law that Congress laid out in terms of protecting people,” Earthjustice senior attorney Tosh Sagar told The Washington Post. 

1-bromopropane has been linked to cancer in animals, E&E News reported. It is also  “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” by the National Toxicology Program, according to the EPA

Industry trade-group the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance first petitioned the EPA to add the chemical in 2010, and was joined in its petition by New York state in 2011, according to E&E and The Washington Post. 

However, the agency did not draft an approval until 2017 and did not finally agree to the petition until 2020.

“It’s taken them this long to act,” Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance Executive Director Faye Graul told the Washington Post. 

Because this is the first new toxin added to the list, it could set an important precedent for how added chemicals are regulated going forward, E&E noted. The EPA said it is now “working on a separate regulatory ‘infrastructure’ to address the impacts, implications, and requirements,” according to E&E. 

This could potentially turn into a battle over how to enforce the new rule in business settings. The Air Advocacy Coalition, which includes industry group the American Chemistry Council, expressed concerns over what those regulations might entail. But environmental organizations like Earthjustice countered that businesses had had ample time to get ready for a new rule governing the dangerous chemical.

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