By Lynn L. Bergeson, Carla N. Hutton, and Holly M. Williams
During the week of June 15, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California heard from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final three witnesses: Dr. Joyce Tsuji, Dr. Ellen Chang, and Dr. Tala Henry. Food & Water Watch, Inc. v. EPA, Case No. 3:17-cv-02162-EMC. Dr. Tsuji did not dispute that fluoride can be a neurotoxin at “high enough levels.” Dr. Tsuji contended that the scientific literature remains too limited to establish linkage between fluoride and adverse health outcomes. Dr. Chang testified on the application of systematic review to chemical usage, a process EPA explored at length with its first witness, Dr. Kris Thayer, as reported in our June 12, 2020, blog item.
Dr. Henry defended the EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics’ (OPPT) decision to deny plaintiffs’ Section 21 petition. As Director of EPA's Risk Assessment Division, Dr. Henry expressed the view that “robust science” warranted rejection of the petition. On June 17, 2020, plaintiffs called back Dr. Kathleen Thiessen as a rebuttal witness, who testified briefly in response to the criticism by EPA’s witnesses of plaintiffs’ methodology in studies mentioned earlier in the trial. After Dr. Thiessen’s testimony, the trial moved to closing arguments.
Plaintiffs’ closing argument asserted that EPA failed to quantify what fluoride levels were dangerous to humans. District Judge Edward M. Chen interceded to inquire in this regard as tests showing neurotoxicity were well above the level in fluoridation chemicals introduced into water. Plaintiffs argued the necessity of taking into account inter-species differences from animal testing, as well as human-to-human differences. Plaintiffs stated that this lack of data seriously hinders determining at what level susceptibility can be found.
EPA responded in its closing that studies relied on by plaintiffs are limited by confounding variables, lack of comparison groups, and double-blind methodologies. Additionally, EPA noted inconsistencies among the reports plaintiffs cited. Judge Chen followed up with questions regarding the counter-intuitive findings of effects from fluoride exposure in adult rats but not infants and wanted to confirm if this was a byproduct of the quality of research. EPA replied that there is insufficient evidence to defend an IQ-urine connection. Judge Chen also asked if the court could find unreasonable risk from the chemical used by EPA without causation of neurological effects. EPA responded that the only standard provided in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) regarding unreasonable risk is that which results from an evaluation of that risk, not causation.
After hearing closing arguments, Judge Chen noted that the evidence presented by both parties was not confined to the administrative record and that he allowed both parties to use evidence that was available after plaintiffs filed their petition in 2016 Judge Chen asked plaintiffs and EPA to consider how to reach an agreement, including plaintiffs submitting a new petition or EPA reconsidering its denial of the petition. Pending Judge Chen's request for additional briefing, there was no ruling on what could potentially be the first half of a bifurcated trial. A status conference is tentatively scheduled for August 6, 2020, at 10:30 a.m. (PDT).
By Lynn L. Bergeson, Carla N. Hutton, and Holly M. Williams
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California began hearing oral arguments on June 8, 2020, in a case seeking a rulemaking under Section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to prohibit the addition of fluoridation chemicals to drinking water supplies. Food & Water Watch, Inc. v. EPA, Case No. 3:17-cv-02162-EMC. The plaintiffs filed suit following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) denial of a TSCA Section 21 petition requesting it to exercise its Section 6 authority to prohibit the purposeful addition of fluoridation chemicals to U.S. water supplies. On June 12, 2020, Dr. Kathleen M. Thiessen testified as the final witness for the plaintiffs’ case-in-chief regarding risk analysis to determine a level of fluoride that does not produce adverse effects. Thiessen also testified about a study that found correlation between fluoride intake and diminished thyroid productivity. EPA’s first witness, Dr. Kristina Thayer, clarified the types of experimental biases and processes to vet bodies of evidence. Earlier in the week, plaintiffs’ expert witnesses summarized the scientific literature on the adverse effects of fluoride on children’s development, including lowered IQ. The experts have cited both animal and human studies. EPA has questioned them at length regarding the discrepancies between male and female test subjects, especially in relation to prenatal fluoride exposure. EPA has argued that the data presented by plaintiffs suffers from inconsistencies, flawed methodologies, and biases. The trial will resume on Monday, June 15, 2020. Readers interested in watching the trial remotely can find scheduling and Zoom information here.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a Federal Register notice on November 12, 2019, announcing the availability of its response to a petition it received under Section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). 84 Fed. Reg. 60986. As reported in our August 23, 2019, blog item, PEER petitioned EPA under TSCA Section 21 to prohibit the use of hydrofluoric acid in manufacturing processes at oil refineries under TSCA Section 6(a) and under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to take the same action pursuant to Section 112 of the Clean Air Act (CAA). PEER petitioned EPA to prohibit the use of hydrofluoric acid in manufacturing processes at oil refineries and require a phase-out of use at such facilities within two years. EPA states that after “careful consideration,” it has denied the Section 21 petition. EPA notes that the Federal Register notice specifically addresses only the TSCA Section 21 petition, not the petition submitted under the APA. EPA is denying the petition “based on the petition’s lack of sufficient facts establishing that it is necessary for the Agency to issue a rule under TSCA section 6(a).” According to EPA, to grant a petition for a TSCA Section 6(a) rulemaking, a petition must provide facts establishing that the requested rulemaking is necessary. Those facts need to be “sufficiently clear and robust for EPA to be able to conclude, within 90 days of filing the petition, that the chemical presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment and that issuance of a TSCA section 6(a) rule is the appropriate response to the petition.” To make the threshold finding, EPA needs hazard and exposure data and other information to enable it to assess risk and conclude whether the risk is unreasonable. In this case, EPA states that PEER’s petition “refers to hazard databases and makes conclusory statements of toxicity but provides little further information that would support granting a TSCA section 6(a) rulemaking request.” According to EPA, the petition lacks the analysis that would be expected in a TSCA risk evaluation preceding a Section 6(a) rulemaking, such as “discussion of the appropriate hazard threshold, exposure estimates, assessment of risks, or how the facts presented allow EPA to comply with its duties under section 26 or other statutory requirements in making an unreasonable risk determination.” Absent such information, EPA “cannot make the threshold determinations necessary to substantively assess and grant a petition for a TSCA section 6(a) rulemaking.” EPA denies PEER’s petition request as facially incomplete.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) posted an August 7, 2019, petition for rulemaking submitted by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) under Section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). PEER asks that oil refineries be prohibited from using hydrofluoric acid in their manufacturing processes and that oil refineries be required to phase out the use of hydrofluoric acid within two years. According to PEER, TSCA and the Clean Air Act (CAA) regulate hydrofluoric acid and provide the statutory authority for EPA to issue a regulation prohibiting the use of hydrofluoric acid in oil refineries. PEER states that under TSCA, EPA “possesses the power to promulgate rules banning chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk to human health.” If the EPA Administrator determines that the “manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal of a chemical substance . . . presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment,” TSCA Section 6(a) provides EPA the authority to prohibit or otherwise restrict “the manufacture, processing, or distribution in commerce of such substance or mixture for (i) a particular use.” PEER argues that the EPA Administrator could ban the use of hydrofluoric acid in refineries if the Administrator found that its use in that context presented an unreasonable risk to health or the environment. PEER maintains that the use of hydrofluoric acid presents such a risk.
EPA sent a letter to PEER on August 16, 2019, confirming receipt of its petition and noting that Section 21 provides the Administrator 90 days to grant or deny the petition. If the EPA Administrator grants the petition, the Administrator will “promptly commence an appropriate preceding [sic].” If the Administrator denies the petition, the Administrator will publish the reasons for the denial in the Federal Register.
By Lynn L. Bergeson, Carla N. Hutton, and Margaret R. Graham
On December 21, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) Nancy B. Beck, Ph.D., signed a Federal Register document denying a Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Section 21 petition requesting that EPA amend the Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) rule to increase asbestos reporting, exclude asbestos from certain exemptions, and lift Confidential Business Information (CBI) claims on asbestos information reported under the CDR rule. Due to the government shutdown, the notice has not yet been published in the Federal Register, but EPA has posted a prepublication version. EPA’s carefully reasoned response to the request is set forth in the notice.
The petition was filed on September 27, 2018, by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, American Public Health Association, Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Working Group, Environmental Health Strategy Center, and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (Petitioners). According to EPA, Petitioners requested the following specific amendments to the existing CDR rule to collect information for the ongoing asbestos risk evaluation being conducted under TSCA Section 6(b) (required to be completed by December 22, 2019), and, if necessary, any subsequent risk management decisions under TSCA Section 6(a):
- Amend the CDR rule to require immediate submission, “from January 1, 2019, to April , 2019,” of reports on asbestos for the 2016 reporting cycle.
- Amend the naturally occurring chemical substance exemption at 40 C.F.R. § 711.6(a)(3) to make the exemption inapplicable to asbestos;
- Amend the articles exemption at 40 C.F.R. § 711.10(b) to require reporting pursuant to the CDR rule for all imported articles in which asbestos is present at detectable levels;
- Amend the CDR rule to exclude asbestos from the exemption at 40 C.F.R. § 711.10(c) to require the reporting of asbestos as a byproduct or impurity;
- Amend the reporting threshold for CDR at 40 C.F.R. § 711.8(b) to set a reporting threshold of ten pounds for asbestos; and
- Amend 40 C.F.R. § 711.8 to add processors of asbestos and asbestos-containing articles as persons required to report under the CDR rule.
In addition to the above requests, Petitioners also requested that EPA use its authority under TSCA Sections 14(d)(3) and 14(d)(7) to lift CBI claims on asbestos information reported under the CDR rule. EPA responds in detail as to why it is denying each of these requests. A short summary is below.
- 2016 Reporting Cycle: EPA states that based on the extensive research and data gathering already conducted during the asbestos risk evaluation process, EPA believes that “the requested amendments to the CDR rule would not lead to the reporting of new information that would contribute to EPA’s ongoing asbestos risk evaluation or, if needed, subsequent risk management decision(s)” and Petitioners have “failed to set forth sufficient facts to establish that it is necessary to issue the requested amendment to require immediate past reporting of the manufacturing and use of asbestos under the CDR rule for the 2016 reporting cycle.”
- Naturally Occurring Substances Exemption: EPA states that removing the exemption for reporting on naturally occurring substances for asbestos would not provide any additional data to EPA “given that the purpose of domestic manufacturing or importing of raw asbestos is to make asbestos diaphragms, for which EPA already has use and exposure information” and Petitioners have “failed to set forth sufficient facts to establish that it is necessary to issue the requested amendment to lift the naturally occurring chemical substances exemption for asbestos under the CDR rule.”
- Articles Exemption: EPA states that it believes that lifting the articles exemption for the reporting of asbestos under the CDR rule “would not provide any new use information that would inform the ongoing risk evaluation or any subsequent risk management decisions, if needed” and that Petitioners “have failed to set forth sufficient facts to establish that it is necessary to issue the requested amendment to lift the articles exemption for asbestos under the CDR rule.”
- Reporting as a Byproduct or Impurity: EPA states that it does not believe that making the requested amendment to the CDR rule would result in “reporting of asbestos as an impurity or a byproduct, for uses that are known or reasonably ascertainable,” that Petitioners “have not provided evidence that there are such known uses that are ongoing but remain outside the scope of the asbestos risk evaluation,” and “have failed to set forth sufficient facts to establish that it is necessary to issue the requested amendment to lift the byproducts and impurities exemptions for asbestos under the CDR rule.”
- Reporting Threshold of Ten Pounds: EPA states that Petitioners “fail to show that lowering the reporting threshold would provide any new information to EPA” and, therefore, finds that the Petitioners “have failed to set sufficient facts to establish that it is necessary to issue the requested amendment to lower the CDR reporting threshold for asbestos.”
- Adding Processors to CDR: EPA states that it does not believe that “requiring processors of asbestos under the CDR rule will provide useful information not already in its possession,” Petitioners “have failed to indicate what additional information EPA would collect by requiring asbestos processors to report under the CDR rule” and, therefore, EPA finds that the Petitioners “have failed to set forth sufficient facts to establish that it is necessary to issue the requested amendment to require processors of asbestos to report under the CDR rule.”
- Lifting CBI Claims: EPA states that Petitioners’ request to lift CBI claims on asbestos information reported under the CDR rule is "not appropriate for a TSCA Section 21 petition, as a TSCA Section 21 only pertains to the “issuance, amendment, or repeal of a rule under TSCA sections 4, 6, or 8, or an order under TSCA sections 4 or 5(e) or (f),” therefore, a TSCA Section 21 petition “is not a vehicle to petition EPA to initiate an action under TSCA section 14.” Further, EPA states that it believes that “disclosure of CBI would have no practical relevance to the risk evaluation or risk determination as the CBI claims are limited and EPA retains the ability to characterize the information without revealing the actual protected data.”
Please look for the full analysis in our upcoming memorandum that will be posted on our Regulatory Developments page.
By Lynn L. Bergeson, Charles M. Auer, and Margaret R. Graham
On December 21, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had wrongly dismissed a Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Section 21 petition submitted by Food & Water Watch, Inc. and other citizens seeking the regulation of fluoridation of drinking water supplies under TSCA Section 6(a) on grounds that the ingestion of fluoride poses an unreasonable risk to humans. Food & Water Watch, Inc. v. EPA, Case No. 17-cv-02162-EMC (N.D. Cal.) (Food & Water Watch). In 2017, EPA denied the Section 21 petition on the grounds that it failed to address conditions of use other than the fluoridation of drinking water. 82 Fed. Reg. 11878 (Feb. 27, 2017).
In a fairly scathing rebuke of EPA’s legal positions, the court denied EPA’s motion to dismiss the petitioner’s judicial challenge of EPA’s administrative denial of the Section 21 petition and, in so doing, essentially rejected EPA’s interpretation that a citizen petition must evaluate all conditions of use of a chemical substance in a TSCA Section 6(b) risk evaluation. While we are hesitant to note that “we told you so” in our March 7, 2017, blog item, the analysis noted there was spot on.
At issue in Food & Water Watch is EPA’s legal position that TSCA Section 6 requires that EPA consider all conditions of use in proceedings under that provision. The court rejected this view noting that the “argument has no basis in the statutory text,” and there “is no good reason to believe that the term’s [conditions of use] appearance … [in Section 21] … obligates all citizen petitioners to address all conditions of use.” The court also noted that EPA’s interpretation creates “a disparity between citizen petitions and manufacturer requests” for a Section 6(b) risk evaluation. Under the rules, a manufacturer’s request may be limited only to those particular conditions of use of interest to the manufacturer, citing 40 C.F.R. Section 702.37(b)(4). The court also noted EPA’s change of view on this issue between the proposed and final risk evaluation rule. EPA initially proposed that risk evaluations must consider all conditions of use, but concluded in the final rule that EPA may focus its review on fewer than all conditions of use.
The court’s analysis is clear and well written, and goes into some detail on EPA’s legal reasoning and the problems it identified with it.
This ruling raises interesting issues when viewed in the broader context of pending judicial challenges to EPA’s TSCA framework rules. In those challenges, citizen advocates challenge EPA’s view, as articulated in the final framework rules, that the Agency retains discretion to assess those conditions of use it believes are most relevant for a particular chemical evaluation. In other words, they challenge EPA’s view that fewer than all conditions of use must be considered in a risk evaluation, the very position the court in Food & Water Watch rejected for purposes of Section 21 petitions challenging EPA’s interpretation of a citizen’s legal burden under TSCA Section 6(a). Given that the judicial challenge to the risk evaluation final rule is being heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, this district court decision is particularly relevant.
By Charles M. Auer, James V. Aidala, and Lynn L. Bergeson
On February 27, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in a Federal Register notice that it was denying a Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Section 21 petition that requested regulatory action under Section 6 to “prohibit the purposeful addition of fluoridation chemicals to U.S. water supplies,” and that it was making available its response to the petition. 82 Fed. Reg. 11878. The petition was received by EPA on November 23, 2016, and EPA had 90 days in which to respond by either granting or denying the requested action.
- EPA’s response was relatively comprehensive as it went through and provided its views on numerous aspects and issues at play including:
- EPA’s interpretation of the Section 6 provisions regarding conditions of use which asserts that TSCA requires EPA to comprehensively consider and address all conditions of use for a chemical or category of chemicals when considering and taking action under Section 6(a). This point was first made in EPA’s proposed procedural rule for risk evaluations (82 Fed. Reg. 7562, Jan. 19, 2017) that is currently open for comment.
- EPA’s belief that Congress, under the new law, did not intend to empower Section 21 petitioners for regulation under Section 6 to promote chemicals of particular concern and force expeditious action based on risks arising from individual uses of those chemicals (helpfully, in its response, EPA suggests use of a petition under the Administrative Procedure Act to the petitioners for such cases).
- The scientific adequacy of the petitioners’ risks claims for the general public from exposure to fluoridation chemicals in drinking water. EPA identified and discussed in some depth the numerous weaknesses it saw in health, exposure, and risk aspects.
- The petitioners’ inadequate consideration of the public health benefits of fluoridation of drinking water.
- Inadequate support by the petitioners for their belief that action was needed under TSCA rather than under the Safe Drinking Water Act, because of the latter’s purported limitations.
While comment could be offered on many of the points discussed in the decision, we limit our reactions to a few key points. The first is that, given all of the work that is at play under new TSCA, we are frankly surprised that EPA saw the need for such a detailed and comprehensive response to the petitioners. From our perspective, a much shorter and more focused response would have provided an adequate basis for the denial decision.
The second is the way that EPA used its response as a platform to advocate for its interpretation that Section 6 requires that EPA consider all conditions of use in proceeding under that Section. While this point was made in its proposed procedural rule for conducting risk evaluations, that rule was, as indicated, only a proposal and, moreover, it was issued under the prior Administration. This decision, however, because it can be legally challenged by the petitioners, equates to a judicially reviewable act as the petitioners may commence a civil action in federal district court to compel EPA to initiate a rulemaking as requested in the petition. Interesting, too, is the fact that the decision was issued under the new Trump Administration. Given that the response was signed less than a month after the Inauguration, we do not want to over-interpret its significance (perhaps EPA was merely “reiterating” rather than “advocating” its position of record). We also note in passing that it was signed on the same day that the new Administrator was sworn in (February 17).
EPA’s response in this case is expansive and detailed, not only with respect to what EPA concluded the claimed risks of fluoride to be, but also regarding the considerable detail on what the agency apparently has concluded are required elements to qualify as sufficient to grant a Section 21 petition for TSCA Section 6(a) action in the future. The granularity of the discussion is extraordinary.
That EPA disagreed over the possible risks of fluoride is not the most interesting part of the notice. EPA’s response includes what in essence is the following argument about what is required to make a Section 21 argument that EPA can grant: the petition must include a complete risk evaluation, including an analysis of all conditions of use, showing how the TSCA risk standard is exceeded, before EPA would grant the petition.
EPA explicitly states, for example, that if a petition showed that a chemical use clearly exceeds the TSCA risk standard, and did not include all the conditions of use, EPA would still deny the petition to initiate action to control the risk. The notice states (at 11880):
- EPA recognizes that information on a single condition of use, could, in certain instances, suffice to demonstrate that a chemical substance, as a whole, presents an unreasonable risk. Nonetheless, EPA concludes that such information does not fulfill a petitioner’s burden to justify “a rule under [TSCA Section 6],” under TSCA Section 21, since the information would merely justify a subset of an adequate rule.”
So even if a chemical use is shown to cause great harm, it would not merit EPA granting the petition since it is not a complete risk evaluation as EPA wishes to define it. The notice explains EPA’s rationale for this position, essentially arguing that since EPA must assess “all conditions of use” in any control rule they might promulgate, then any outside petition must include all of the same homework before it can be granted.
This seems to obviate the very purpose of Section 21 petitions for Section 6 action, which in the past has been viewed as one way for the public to identify risks of concern to EPA which, for whatever reason, may not be on EPA’s radar. This asserted view, that only a comprehensive risk evaluation considering all conditions of use will suffice, presents a very high threshold for action -- and seemingly an impossibly high threshold to move EPA to act.
The petitioners in this case may decide to challenge the EPA decision. Activists concerned about the possible risks of fluoride have in the past been persistent and dogged about their cause. In this decision, however, there is potentially more than a disagreement over possible risks of fluoride; there might also be arguments over what is or is not sufficient for Section 21 petitions to be granted, or possibly about EPA’s general interpretation, as elaborated in the denial notice and in the risk evaluation procedural rule, that new TSCA does not provide discretion for EPA to evaluate less than all conditions of use in new actions under Section 6.