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TSCA Head Defends Safety Commitment Amid Criticism, Seeks $48M Boost for Chemical Reviews

Jan. 25, 2024
Agency faces scrutiny for missed deadlines as Michal Freedhoff calls for additional funds and resources.

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's chemical review office told a Senate committee Jan. 24 her team needs more resources, including an extra $48 million from the federal budget, to more efficiently manage increasing workloads. 

Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the agency’s 's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said the EPA has requested a total of $130.7 million a year to conduct chemical reviews under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Freedhoff testified before the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“We recognize there are continuing concerns that we are not moving fast enough, and I know there is more we can improve upon, but I refuse to accept that we have to choose between safety and speed,” said Freedhoff in her written testimony. “While we have made good progress towards more timely and efficient new chemical reviews, our resource shortfalls have ultimately prevented us from implementing some of these improvements as quickly as we’d like.”

The additional funds are crucial for addressing the backlog and ensuring timely risk evaluations, Freedhoff said. With the proposed budget increase, the office could staff a new branch dedicated to implementing TSCA’s existing chemicals rules and build a stronger data-management infrastructure, she said.

Meeting Statutory Deadlines

In her testimony, Freedhoff painted a picture of an overwhelmed staff, handling hundreds of submissions for new chemicals per year. The staff had grown from two human health assessors to 14 by the end of 2022. Meanwhile, risk assessment notifications and exemption applications grew by nearly 70% in 2023 to 472 total, she said.

Moving forward, the agency will prioritize five existing chemicals per year for risk evaluations to make the process more manageable. The office has only completed one out of more than 30 risk evaluations for existing chemicals by the statutory deadline, Freedhoff noted.

Industry groups and stakeholders, including the American Chemistry Council (ACC), have criticized Freedhoff's office for failing to meet legally mandated deadlines to complete the review process.

In response to the hearing, ACC praised comments by Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia, who raised concerns about the slow pace of new-chemical approvals.

“We appreciate Chairman Carper, Ranking Member Capito and the committee for their attention to this critical issue,” said ACC President and CEO Chris Jahn in a prepared statement. “Last year, Assistant Administrator Freedhoff outlined plans for the TSCA program ‘to work smarter, not harder. But our experience is a TSCA that is still experiencing continuous backlogs in the New Chemicals Program and overly broad risk evaluations that result in uncertainty, confusion, stifled American innovation and offshoring.”

Capito emphasized the importance of timely reviews as a legal obligation to prevent stifling innovation and discussed the impact of slow approvals on global competitiveness.

"Chemical manufacturers in China are more than happy to fill the void if U.S.-based companies are stuck in regulatory purgatory by the EPA," Capito said.

Capito also raised issues with the EPA’s “zero-risk” approach to chemical reviews, criticizing its impact on innovation, while hindering the stated goals of TSCA.

"Your office seems to have a mission creep where no data can satisfy risk assessments, and the EPA is intruding upon other agencies, like OSHA, to which Congress has provided relevant authorities," Capito told Freedhoff.

She highlighted the negative consequences of slower reviews, leading to reliance on older chemistries with potentially higher risks and fewer environmental benefits.

Preventing Future Health Catastrophes

Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma questioned Freedhoff about the agency's December announcement of five new high-priority substances for risk evaluation.

He accused Freedhoff of favoring input from anti-plastics activists over industry stakeholders, particularly noting the inclusion of vinyl chloride, used in PVC piping, among the five high-priority chemicals.

Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, mentioned that Feb. 3 will mark the one-year anniversary of the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment that led to the toxic release and controlled burning of vinyl chloride. He asked Freedhoff whether a ban or use restriction would help protect communities like East Palestine.

Freedhoff indicated that an outright ban is not necessarily inevitable. The agency will also explore the possibility of altering the manufacturing and usage practices of vinyl chloride, she said.

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Executive Editor

Jonathan Katz, executive editor, brings nearly two decades of experience as a B2B journalist to Chemical Processing magazine. He has expertise on a wide range of industrial topics. Jon previously served as the managing editor for IndustryWeek magazine and, most recently, as a freelance writer specializing in content marketing for the manufacturing sector.

His knowledge areas include industrial safety, environmental compliance/sustainability, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, Industry 4.0/automation and many other topics of interest to the Chemical Processing audience.

When he’s not working, Jon enjoys fishing, hiking and music, including a small but growing vinyl collection.

Jon resides in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

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