Glyme Time is Long Overdue at EPA

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A recent Environmental Health News (EHN) report notes that the EPA has proposed new rules on a class of highly toxic chemicals, more than a decade after studies demonstrated harmful health effects following exposure to the compounds.

Glycol ethers, also called glymes, can cause reproductive and developmental harm, especially to exposed workers, and potentially to consumers, who may exposed when using any of dozens of products, including paint, carpet cleaners, inkjet cartridges, and other products. A large multi-year study of semi-conductor workers published in 1995 found high rates of miscarriages among women exposed to the chemicals. Animal studies have found other health impacts.

Response to EPA’s long overdue action has been muted. Marc Schenker, chairman of UC Davis’ the Department of Public Health Sciences told EHN that he was glad to see the EPA action on glymes since the chemicals “are no less toxic than they were 10 years ago.” CEH Research Director Caroline Cox told Bay Area KTVU News that political pressures can hamstring the agency, leading to exactly this kind of delay in protecting the public.

In fact, EPA’s regulatory actions on glymes are only worth celebrating because EPA has taken action on so few hazardous chemicals in the last four decades. The agency’s proposal is for restrictions on fourteen chemicals in the glyme family, but two  appear to have  no current uses. The new policy would apply only to “significant new” uses of the chemicals – products that currently contain toxic glymes would remain unregulated. These potentially harmful products could continue to expose people, without even a warning label (in Europe, products containing certain glymes must be labeled “may impair fertility” or “may cause harm to the unborn child”).      

This sad state of chemical regulations can be traced to the absolute failure of the U.S. government to maintain scientifically up-to-date rules to protect the public from chemical hazards. The main U.S. chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) hasn’t been updated in 35 years, and never included provisions strong enough to allow regulators to take comprehensive action to address the many health threats Americans face from harmful chemicals in everyday products.

That’s why CEH has worked for fifteen years to eliminate exposures to arsenic, lead, cadmium and other harmful chemicals we found in dozens of products, such as baby bibs, lunchboxes, candy and more. If U.S. chemical policies were stronger, products would be safety tested and harmful chemicals would be eliminated before the products get to market – and before our children and families are exposed.

Instead, we wait ten years after testing shows serious health effects from highly toxic chemicals, and then hope we can somehow avoid the unlabeled products that remain on the market thanks to our feckless regulations.

To learn more about efforts to strengthen protections from harmful chemicals, check out Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy at http://changecalifornia.org/about.html