EDF, EWG, and Sierra Club Sue over Trump EPA’s Unscientific and Unlawful Decisions on Dangerous Chemical

Risk evaluation of carcinogenic contaminant 1,4-dioxane ignores water exposure, understates health risk

January 26, 2021
Sam Lovell, (202) 572-3544, slovell@edf.org

Today, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Working Group and Sierra Club filed a legal challenge to the deeply flawed assessment of the dangerous chemical 1,4-dioxane issued in the closing days of the Trump Administration by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The risk evaluation ignores major ways people are exposed to the chemical – including through drinking water and on-the-job exposure of millions of workers – despite clear requirements in the law to evaluate those exposures. EPA also illegally failed to analyze the greater risk faced by some groups of people, including children, workers and communities near sources of release of 1,4-dioxane.

1,4-dioxane is a likely human carcinogen that is toxic to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Across the country, it contaminates the drinking water of more than 8 million people in 45 states at levels exceeding health guidelines. The chemical also frequently contaminates many common products – from antifreeze to household cleaners and detergents – used by workers as well as consumers.

“The risk evaluation for 1,4-dioxane clearly illustrates the former administration’s disregard for the law and its contempt for public health protection by drastically – and unlawfully – understating the risk posed to our health by this chemical,” said Dr. Richard Denison, EDF Health Lead Senior Scientist. “As we work to chart a new course on chemical safety under the Biden Administration – one that protects everyone – it is vital that the dangerous, illegal actions of the Trump EPA are overturned, which is why we are bringing this challenge in the courts.”

“The 1,4-dioxane risk evaluation exemplifies how the Trump EPA cooked the books on chemical safety,” said Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at Environmental Working Group, “the Trump EPA dramatically and unlawfully underestimated public health risks by ignoring exposures from drinking water, air, and consumer products and failing to protect vulnerable populations like children and workers. EWG is joining this action to ask the courts to hold the former administration accountable for turning a blind eye to the clear public health risks from 1,4-dioxane, overturn its unlawful actions, and ensure that the incoming administration is able to take regulatory actions that protect everyone from the risks of known dangers like 1,4-dioxane.” 

“The Trump EPA’s assessment ignored the fact that people can be exposed to 1,4-dioxane through multiple sources in a single day. Millions of people have daily contact with 1,4-dioxane in things like household cleaners and body care products, in addition to drinking or bathing in contaminated water,” said Eric Uram, chair of Sierra Club’s Grassroots Toxics Committee. “We need an agency that is truly committed to following the law and protecting those most impacted by chemical hazards. This means ensuring that people’s real-world exposures are safe.”

The petition for review of the 1,4-dioxane risk evaluation was filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This is the third lawsuit filed challenging TSCA risk evaluations that were finalized during the Trump Administration. The groups filing the lawsuit are represented by the public interest law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP in San Francisco.   

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