Don’t Be Fooled: Voluntary EPA Program Fails Our Children

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Thirteen years after initiating a program to protect children from the most harmful chemical hazards, a new report from the EPA’s Inspector General found that the agency’s “Voluntary Children’s Chemical Evaluation Program” has utterly and completely failed to achieve its health protection objectives.

Developed by the EPA during the Clinton Administration, the program purported to help “improve the public’s knowledge about potentially harmful chemicals,” and in particular, “…ensure that parents have the information they need to protect their children from harmful chemicals in their environment.”

How did EPA expect to achieve these worthy goals? EPA planned to identify the worst chemical hazards, collect health data from chemical manufacturers, assess the data, and communicate their findings to parents. But the Inspector General’s report found that a few minor hiccups hampered EPA’s efforts, to wit:

·      The agency failed to identify the chemicals of greatest concern;

·      The chemical companies failed to turn over data that was needed for health assessments;

·      The agency failed to assess data when it did receive some; and

·      No useful information was communicated to the public or to parents.

The IG’s report notes that some chemical companies volunteered to turn over health data but then refused when EPA requested more meaningful health information. The agency received the full data it requested for just 6 of the 20 chemicals under consideration. According to agency staff, the companies complained when they found out they would have to pay for consultations about their products’ hazards to children (reaffirming industry’s commitment to their own profits over our children’s health). EPA then failed to assert its regulatory authority to compel the companies to turn over the data.

 Thus, the EPA’s “voluntary” approach allowed the companies to look good (“see, we’re volunteering”) while crippling the agency’s authority to protect children when industry backed out. As the IG’s report concluded, “EPA has not demonstrated that it can achieve children’s health goals with a voluntary program.”

Sadly, this is typical of “voluntary” industry regulations. Dirty industries love these programs, since they give cover for companies who want a clean image while continuing business as usual regardless of the costs to your children’s or families’ health.

So next time you hear about some great new “voluntary” industry regulations, remember the old adage, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”