WASHINGTON -- March 29 -- The Environmental Protection Agency's new guidelines for assessing cancer risk from chemical pollutants will give industry too many opportunities to stifle safeguards that protect children, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
EPA's guidelines acknowledge, for the first time, that children under 2 years of age are 10 times more likely to get cancer from certain chemicals than adults who are similarly exposed. But the White House Office of Management and Budget undermined that acknowledgment by inserting language in the guidelines that make it easy for industry to block EPA from following them when assessing cancer-causing chemicals.
"The White House decided it was more important to protect the chemical industry than protect our kids from cancer," said Dr. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with NRDC's environmental health program.
The guidelines announced today, which dictate how EPA regulates cancer-causing chemicals, finalize a draft policy issued by EPA in March 2003. That draft policy included supplemental guidelines for assessing cancer risks to children.
The guidelines had to go through several rigorous scientific reviews before they were released today.
EPA's draft guidelines, including the children's supplemental, first passed through an internal agency review two years ago. The agency's Scientific Advisory Board reviewed the guidelines and agreed with EPA's conclusion that early-life exposures to chemical pollutants increase cancer risk. The board recommended finalizing EPA's draft guidelines as written.
The guidelines then went to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for scrutiny, where they languished until today. Out of public view, OMB substantially weakened the guidelines by adding language that will allow the chemical industry to contest policy decisions more easily, according to NRDC. Specifically, OMB inserted language allowing for "expert elicitation," opening the door for any outside party to challenge the way EPA applies the guidelines to assess chemicals. Such a challenge could slow the agency down for months, if not years, in making a decision on regulating a cancer-causing chemical, according to NRDC. OMB further weakened the guidelines by adding language requiring any EPA cancer evaluation to meet the standards of the Data Quality Act, a law designed by tobacco industry consultants to quash protective regulations. By opening the process to relentless industry challenges, said Dr. Sass, OMB set the bar so high that children will not be adequately protected from many cancer-causing chemicals.
"The White House took what would have been strong guidelines to protect our children from cancer and turned them into an industry punching bag," said Dr. Sass. "Chemical companies will be able to pummel any new safeguard to death. The chemical industry wins, our children lose."
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.