Environmentalists were aghast last week upon discovering that the Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had weakened otherwise stringent new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines on assessing the cancer risk of various chemicals. In essence, the added OMB requirements allow for unlimited industry challenges on cancer risk rulings, meaning chemical companies will be able to at least slow down phase-outs of products already known to increase childhood cancer rates.
“The White House decided it was more important to protect the chemical industry than protect our kids from cancer,” reported Jennifer Sass, senior scientist with the advocacy-oriented Natural Resources Defense Council.
Sass and her colleagues contend that the so-called “expert elicitation” language inserted by OMB at the eleventh hour opens the door for chemical manufacturers and their lobbyists to contest how EPA applies the new risk assessment guidelines, potentially adding years to decision-making processes on substances already causing problems. Furthermore, OMB also added language requiring EPA cancer evaluations to meet the standards of the Data Quality Act, a law designed by tobacco industry lobbyists to invalidate protective legislation.
“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 Sass. “Chemical companies will be able to pummel any new safeguard to death. The chemical industry wins, our children lose,” she concluded.