Letter asks Pruitt to protect citizens and first responders
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Thirty-three members of the U.S. House of Representatives from 15 states and the District of Columbia have asked EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to “disclose the identities of all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas drilling that the EPA has identified as potentially harmful to human health” under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
The members sent a
letter on March 8 asking Pruitt to reveal the chemical identities under a provision of TSCA that requires the EPA to reveal confidential chemical identities to prevent an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment. TSCA generally allows chemical manufacturers to withhold chemical identities from the public – but not from EPA – as confidential business information. Yet such confidentiality makes it extremely difficult for citizens, regulators, and even first responders to know where potentially harmful chemicals have been used. Scientists and health professionals cannot test for the presence of chemicals they do not know, and chemicals declared confidential at the federal level are unlikely to be revealed under state rules otherwise requiring fracking chemical disclosure. Like TSCA, these rules also typically allow drilling companies to withhold chemical identities as confidential.
The members of Congress noted that such secrecy leaves first responders at risk when they respond to drilling-related emergencies. “By keeping these chemical identities confidential, the EPA is putting our brave first responders in harm’s way,” they wrote.
The letter, led by U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), referenced an effort PFPI helped lead last year in which a group of more than 100 health professionals, scientists, and first responders wrote to Pruitt on November 15. The group asked Pruitt to reveal the identities of 41 chemicals proposed for use in oil and gas drilling that EPA regulators identified as potentially harmful to human health in reviews under TSCA. The regulators’ health concerns included irritation to eyes, skin, and mucous membranes; kidney toxicity; liver toxicity; neurotoxicity; and developmental toxicity.
As of the first week of May, Dr. Kathleen Nolan, a cofounder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, who sent the letter on behalf of the health professionals and others, had not received a substantive response from EPA.
PFPI obtained the EPA regulators’ health concerns about the drilling and fracking chemicals through a Freedom of Information Act request. Additional evidence indicated that the chemicals were used in oil and gas wells. PFPI’s investigation of EPA’s regulation of drilling and fracking chemicals was the subject of two stories that aired on Marketplace on NPR last year on November 14 and November 15.
Drilling companies may be injecting into oil and gas wells many more secret chemicals that EPA regulators flagged as potentially harmful. PFPI’s Freedom of Information Act request remains open, and EPA officials have said that there are records on several hundred chemicals remaining to be disclosed in response.
It’s time for EPA and state governments to end the culture of secrecy around oil and gas chemicals so that the public and our brave first responders can be protected. At the same time, the continuing secrecy provides more incentive to prohibit fracking in sensitive areas such as the Delaware River Basin and shift away from oil and natural gas toward efficiency and clean renewable energy such as wind and solar.