Since January 2019, the EPA has received more than 1,200 legally required disclosures of chemicals that present a “substantial risk of injury to health or the environment.” Internal whistleblowers revealed to The Intercept in November 2021 that all but one of the EPA’s reports on these chemicals have been kept hidden from the public.
Sharon Lerner details that as part of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the EPA must prepare an “8(e) report” on all chemicals whose properties are shown to pose substantial risk to public health. Until 2019, it was regular practice to make these reports available to the public, with the EPA releasing over 1,000 such 8(e) reports in the two years prior. As part of a massive 8-part expose on the agency’s increasingly dangerous practices, five current EPA employees would reveal at least 1,240 8(e) reports on chemicals posing serious harm, including “eye corrosion, damage to the brain and nervous system, chronic toxicity to honeybees, and cancer in both people and animals,” hidden from the public and even many of the EPA’s own employees.
Until 2019, each 8(e) was promptly reviewed and evaluated to determine the degree of concern that should be attached to it as well as recommendations for appropriate follow-up actions. As one of the scientists who spoke to The Intercept would reveal, this is no longer the case; now, they are, “‘just going into a black hole… We don’t look at them, we don’t evaluate them. And we don’t check to see if they change our understanding of the chemical.’”
The chemical industry has long fought policies intended to make reports on toxic chemicals non-confidential. As Eve Gartner, an attorney who manages the toxic exposure and health program at Earthjustice stated, “It is not easy to keep selling your chemicals when people know they likely cause cancer or other serious disease.” Kyla Bennett, science policy director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who previously worked for the EPA, spoke with E.A Crunden of E&E News, describing the whole situation as “appalling” and a “threat to public health.”
The EPA continues to claim a dire lack of funding for the TSCA programs. Staff have reportedly been consumed with other work mandated by the Trump administration, “which sought to revise the TSCA programs in response to industry pressure.” These reports are not routine filings, and as Robert Sussman, a former EPA political appointee stated, “those submissions have revealed PFAS studies and cancer findings” in the past.
Despite the widespread concern expressed by the EPA’s own employees and former representatives, the dangerous trend in the concealment of 8(e) reports to appease industry pressure has been mostly ignored by the corporate media. Apart from the Intercept’s monumental investigation of the EPA’s dangerous conduct, only a handful of organizations such as Lexicology’s report of the PEER suit filed against the EPA have touched on the lack of 8(e) disclosures.
On January 15 of 2022 after three years of internal lockdown, the EPA resumed publishing its 8(e) reports to the publicly available ChemView database. Had it not been for the presence of independent media like The Intercept, the information disclosed by whistleblowers and former representatives would not have had a platform. The journalistic efforts put into this issue played a large role in correcting the action. Without pressure from these investigations to balance the industry’s pushback on 8(e) reporting, dangerous chemicals could have run rampant indefinitely while the only hope for corrective action remained locked in a digital folder.
Sharon Lerner, “EPA Withheld Reports of Substantial Risk Posed by 1,240 Chemicals,” The Intercept, November 1, 2021.
E.A. Crunden, “EPA’s Failure to Disclose Chemical Health Risks Draws Ire,” E&E News, January 5, 2022.
Student Researcher: Zach McNanna (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)