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EPA Denies Pledge to ‘Cancer Alley’ Communities on Chemical Risks

Sept. 4, 2020, 7:47 PM

U.S. Gulf Coast communities got no assurance from the EPA that the agency’s second round of chemical risk evaluations will examine whether the groups’ particularly high exposures put them at high risk for asthma, cancer, or other diseases.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday published its final risk analysis plans for 20 chemicals, many of which are widely used by many different industries to make adhesives, paints, plastics, foam, household cleaners, and fire-resistant materials, and to clean muck off industrial equipment.

The final plans, like the draft ones released earlier this year, ticked off general categories of people, like workers and children, that the chemicals law requires the agency to consider to determine whether they face particular risks from any of the 20 chemicals.

But when it came to communities living near factories producing any of the 20 chemicals, the agency said only that it “may evaluate” the general population as it relates to “fence line communities,” in short, nearby neighborhoods.

That means Gulf-area communities in Texas and Louisiana received no assurances the agency would look at the higher-than-average exposures they have to 15 of the 20 chemicals, despite their request earlier this year.

As just one example, Gulf-area residents from both states are exposed to 77% of the nationwide air, water, and land releases of a flame retardant the agency is looking at, the community coalition told the agency in comments.

The 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act amendments, which require the EPA to routinely examine the risks of chemicals made and used in the U.S., also require the agency to consider the risks that chemicals pose to susceptible and highly exposed populations.

The release of the 20 final evaluation plans marks another milestone for the agency’s implementation of the 2016 amendments. It has issued two final risk conclusions for the first batch of 10 chemicals it’s looking at.

Specific Groups Named

In two of the 20 final risk evaluation plans, called “scopes,” the agency detailed specific concerns. The two plans deal with a chemical used to make fragrances and a flame retardant.

The plan for the flame retardant, known by its acronym TBBPA, said public comments and studies prompted the agency to include in its analysis women of reproductive age, lactating females, and children as part of groups that are potentially at risk. A particular concern is kidney damage to newborns exposed to the chemical.

The plan for analyzing the fragrance ingredient said the chemical may harm reproduction and development, and it accumulates in fish. The EPA therefore plans to evaluate risks to groups of people that eat a lot of fish.

Attorneys general from 11 states and the District of Columbia chastised the EPA in June for omitting certain details in its draft risk evaluation plans, such as which special populations the agency would look at.

Letitia James, New York’s Attorney General, led that effort but her office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the agency’s final plans. Nor did any of three environmental organizations that raised similar concerns.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at; Anna Yukhananov at