When businesses want to start using or selling new chemicals in America, the Environmental Protection Agency has a process to approve or deny them. The agency is legally required to perform a risk assessment to base its decision on. However, ProPublica recently revealed that the EPA seems to be ignoring its own risk assessment when approving a new fuel additive proposed by Chevron.
However, the EPA’s risk assessment of some of these chemicals reveals that they are anything but eco-friendly. One of the substances being investigated, a new jet fuel, is expected to cause cancer in one out of four people who are exposed to it over a 70-year lifetime. Another, a boat fuel, is expected to cause cancer in every person exposed over the same period, with the risk calculated at a whopping 1.3 out of one.
After retrieving the original risk assessment via the Freedom of Information Act, ProPublica alleges that the most risky findings from the assessment simply weren’t included in the document the EPA used to authorize Chevron’s use of these chemicals.
The most alarming figure that did make it into the order — the one-in-four risk from the jet fuel — is many, many times higher than the one-in-one-million figure that the EPA usually uses as a cutoff for approving or denying an application, ProPublica reports.
According to emails between ProPublica and the EPA, the agency claims that the risk report is very conservative and the real danger isn’t actually that severe. However, the EPA did not provide information about the actual risk level after several weeks of questioning, ProPublica reports.
Why is this EPA approval a problem?
Normally, the EPA will not approve a chemical for use in the U.S. unless the risk of causing cancer is very low — less than one person in a million who are exposed over a lifetime, ProPublica explains. It can also mandate conditions for how companies handle and dispose of chemicals to make them safer.
In this case, the EPA appears to have thrown those standards out the window. This could expose many people to an astronomical cancer risk from plane and boat exhaust, as well as from the plants that process the chemical.
What’s being done about this improper approval?
According to ProPublica, six environmental agencies have challenged the EPA’s ruling, and an affected community group has sued the agency over its decision. ProPublica has also been in touch with Senator Jeff Merkley, chair of the Senate’s subcommittee on environmental justice and chemical safety.
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