EPA should try to stick to science for a change

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In an op-ed for Forbes, Angela Logomasini, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, takes the EPA to task for attempting to skirt the standard regulatory system on chemical regulation. She describes an insidious new policy called Design for the Environment, which is effectively restricting certain substances by putting pressure on manufacturers to voluntarily remove them from the market. By doing so, the agency has seemingly adopted the precautionary principle, using fear instead of science as a criterion for regulation.

What Logomasini would instead have the EPA attend to is the critical difference between hazard and risk. Hazard, she explains, simply represents the potential for danger given specific circumstances and/or exposures. For instance, substances that we consider to be benign or even healthful, such as water, can actually be fatal under particular circumstances, as in the instance of drowning or water intoxification.

That s why it would be foolish to categorize substances, including chemicals, as dangerous based only on whether they could in theory be hazardous. Rather, chemicals need to be regulated based on their actual risk, which, in addition to hazard, takes into account one very important factor: exposure.

At trace levels, most chemicals are not dangerous. As Logomasini points out, we needn t worry ourselves over the dangers of BPA or phthalates, because they pose no actual risk: They re present in such tiny quantities that they can be detected only by means of sophisticated technology meaning our exposure to these chemicals is essentially nil.

Yet bureaucrats at the EPA are not concerned about conducting science-based chemical risk assessments that take into account exposure; instead, they aim to develop a list of chemicals-of-concern based on just theoretical hazards. That way, says Logomasini, they don t have to demonstrate that the chemicals actually pose real concerns enough to justify regulations under the nation s chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

But since the EPA frequently has no reliable evidence that the chemicals they re after are of any real concern to the American public, they call on companies to eliminate these substances voluntarily based on hazard, not actual risk. Such strong-arm tactics are simply ridiculous, writes Logomasini, and ultimately waste the human ingenuity and investment that went into make making those goods and [deny] society the benefits. The final result is not a safer world, but a poorer, potentially more dangerous one.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom believes that scare tactics like this do damage in another way, too. When people are constantly bombarded with news about dangerous chemicals, he says, it becomes impossible for them to process all this information. They become so overwhelmed that it becomes far easier to just equate all chemicals with poisons. Once this happens, the possibility of critical thinking goes out the window.

To read more about how precautionary principles at the EPA are stifling innovation and needlessly scaring the public about perfectly safe chemicals, please visit Logomasini s site atwww.SafeChemicalPolicy.org, or follow her on Twitter: @ChemicalPolicy