This summer, New York-based International Flavors & Fragrances got the green light from the Environmental Protection Agency to begin importing a potentially toxic chemical known as Jeffamine diacrylamide to the United States.
The company says it will import 1,000 kilograms of the chemical annually for use in a wide array of industrial, commercial and household products such as floor cleaners, cat litter and fabric refresher sprays to reduce “malodors.”
Political appointees at the EPA quietly overruled the recommendations of its own professional staff, ramming through an approval of the chemical in direct contempt of the 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Here are three reasons EPA’s decision is so alarming – and what it tells us about the agency’s intentions for chemical safety going forward.
1. EPA sidestepped requirements under 2016 federal law
In its July 30 decision, the EPA determined that Jeffamine diacrylamide is “not likely to present an unreasonable risk” under TSCA. That means IFF can begin to import and sell the chemical on the American market without any conditions or limits.
This is a complete reversal from the interim decision EPA professional staff made when the company filed its initial notice. They recommended restricting the chemical because of insufficient information about its health effects, and its structural similarity to known and highly toxic chemicals.
Because of the radical shift by President Trump’s political appointees, however, the EPA will not regulate Jeffamine diacrylamide – meaning, it won’t place a single limit or require more information or additional testing of the chemical.
That’s in spite of the fact that Jeffamine diacrylamide falls under the “acrylamides” category. This class of chemicals can cause cancer and be toxic to human reproductive, developmental and neurological systems.
2. EPA gave a possibly toxic chemical unfettered access to market
The stamp of approval the EPA gave Jeffamine diacrylamide gives free rein to any company that wants to make this chemical in any amount, and for any use. Companies that want a piece of the market also won’t have to test the chemical themselves – much less tell the EPA how or where they market it.
Because the EPA has allowed this chemical to enter the market without any conditions whatsoever, there’s no way to know where it may pop up. In fact, IFF has indicated that it’s also interested in selling it for use in “down-the-drain” products such as general cleaners, laundry detergents and bar soaps.
EPA’s reckless approach for a potentially dangerous chemical such as Jeffamine diacrylamide doesn’t bode well for chemical safety in America.
3. EPA ignored serious health concerns
Interestingly, IFF itself indicated that its chemical falls under the toxic acrylamides category, the class of chemicals known to be highly hazardous to human health.
With its final decision on Jeffamine diacrylamide, however, the EPA made a surprise move. With scant explanation and no additional data or publicly available analysis, it instead assigned the chemical into a second category that the EPA says poses significantly fewer health concerns. Voilà, toxic problem gone.
This shift radically departed from the key alert identified by both the company and the EPA’s own assessment tools, and ignored very real health concerns surrounding Jeffamine diacrylamide. Moreover, the agency has not made its full risk assessment public.
So what happens if the agency’s reassessment is wrong and it just gave carte blanche to a chemical that can harm people? We may not know until it’s too late:
Because there’s no order or limits placed on manufacturing, processing or use, the chemical will now enter the market in any number of everyday products, and there will be no testing to determine just how real that health risk is to us.
What’s clear is just how reckless the EPA’s review process for new chemicals has become.
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