EPA Regulators Identified Health Risks but Approved Chemicals for Use
Ithaca, NY and Pelham, MA – As the Trump administration pushes for increased U.S. oil and natural gas production, more than 100 health professionals, scientists and first responders from 21 states and the District of Columbia are asking EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to disclose the confidential identities of 41 chemicals used in oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).
In a letter sent today, the group asked Pruitt to disclose the identities of the chemicals that EPA regulators reviewed between 2003 and 2014, under a program created by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to ensure that new chemicals are safe before they are used commercially. The regulators identified health concerns about each of the new chemicals ranging from lung irritation to developmental toxicity to neurotoxicity, yet allowed each of them to be used in oil and gas wells. In at least 30 of the 41 cases, EPA allowed the chemicals to be commercially produced without receiving health testing data from the manufacturers or requesting such data – as EPA has authority to do under the law. Evidence shows that the 41 chemicals were used or likely used at oil and gas drilling sites, including fracking sites. However, chemical manufacturers declared confidential some or all of the chemicals’ identifying information, as permitted by TSCA, making it difficult for the public to know where the substances are being used.
“President Trump frequently talks about how important first responders are to protecting the public,” said Silverio Caggiano, Battalion Chief with the Youngstown, Ohio Fire Department and Deputy Chief with the Mahoning County Hazardous Materials Response Agency in Mahoning County, Ohio. “Here’s something his EPA can do to protect first responders and citizens: disclose these chemical identities so that we know what kind of risks we’re likely to encounter in the event of a spill or emergency.”
The health professionals, scientists and first responders are asking Pruitt to disclose the chemicals’ identities under a section of TSCA that requires the EPA to take such action when it is necessary to prevent unreasonable risk to health or the environment. EPA revealed non-confidential information about the 41 chemicals, including its own regulators’ health concerns, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in 2014 by nonprofit groups Earthworks and Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI).
EPA does not track where drilling or fracking chemicals are used after the agency reviews the substances under the New Chemicals program. Nor does the agency monitor the environment to detect releases or spills of these chemicals resulting from drilling and fracking. The only realistic way for citizens to locate the chemicals is by searching databases to which drilling companies disclose fracking chemicals either voluntarily or under state laws. Yet without knowing the chemicals’ names, trade names or unique numeric identifiers (known as CAS numbers), such searches are likely to be unsuccessful. Utilizing the limited information available in EPA records, PFPI searched for the chemicals in the two leading fracking chemical disclosure databases, one operated by the nongovernmental organization FracFocus and the other operated by the State of California. PFPI could document only two of the 41 chemicals as being used in specific oil and gas wells.
“Harm from fracking chemicals is not just hypothetical,” said New York-based physician Kathleen Nolan, who helped organize the letter. “Many people living near drilling and fracking sites have reported symptoms consistent with exposure to chemicals used in fracking operations, and recent peer-reviewed research documents that people living near these sites have increased numbers of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, skin rashes, upper respiratory problems, difficulties with pregnancy and other problems. It’s important to know what chemicals people might be exposed to so that physicians can determine if they are connected to these illnesses and, if so, how to treat and prevent further harm.”
“It’s unsettling to know that EPA has identified health concerns for dozens of drilling and fracking chemicals and has then allowed the chemicals to be used with virtually no way for the public to find them,” said Dusty Horwitt, Senior Counsel with Partnership for Policy Integrity. “By disclosing the chemicals’ identities, EPA will help fulfill its obligation to protect public health.”
For more information on these chemicals and EPA’s concerns about them, see PFPI’s 2016 report, Toxic Secrets: Companies Exploit Weak US Chemical Rules to Hide Fracking Risks
Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY) is an initiative by health professionals, scientists, and medical organizations for raising science-based concerns about the impacts of fracking on public health and safety. CHPNY provides educational resources and works to ensure that careful consideration of scientific and health concerns are at the forefront of the fracking debate. https://concernedhealthny.org/
Founded in 2010, the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) uses science, legal action, and strategic communications to promote sound energy policy and to help citizens enact science- based policies that protect air quality, water quality, ecosystems, and the climate. www.pfpi.net
Photo credit: A tanker truck approaches a natural gas well site in Dimock, Pennsylvania.
Photo credit: Tracy Carluccio, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.