Chemical Industry’s Nancy Beck Tapped to Lead the Commission that Protects Consumers

The former industry executive has a long history of blocking protections when it comes to harmful substances.
Nancy Beck at the EPA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, November 1, 2017

Justin T. Gellerson/The New York Times

The former industry executive has a long history of blocking protections when it comes to harmful substances.

President Trump has nominated Nancy Beck, a former chemical industry official, to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an independent federal agency tasked with protecting the public from the same toxic chemicals Beck has long defended, alongside more than 15,000 other regulated products.

“Nancy Beck is a one-woman wrecking ball when it comes to protections from toxic chemicals in our food, water, and household products,” says Daniel Rosenberg, the director of federal toxics policy at NRDC.

Beck, who currently serves as one of the lead political appointees for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s toxics office, has faced continual criticism over decisions that ignore science and prop up harmful substances, like asbestos and methylene chloride“Beck has driven the EPA’s toxics office into a ditch,” Rosenberg says. “She’s rewritten rules and imposed policy decisions that make people less safe—the exact opposite of what the public trusts her to do.”

A federal court has in fact overturned a key Beck decision: a move that would’ve allowed the EPA to ignore the health impacts from lead and asbestos exposure.

Workers in hazmat gear clean asbestos-laden debris from a burnt home. Beck has tried to downplay the danger of asbestos exposure.
Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Recently, Beck was designated the administration’s point person for responding to the crisis posed by PFAS—a class of harmful chemicals that now contaminates everything from our clothing and children’s toys to drinking water and even breast milk. But the administration has been hostile to publicly disclosing the extent of the health risk posed by PFAS. In 2018, the White House went as far as trying to suppress a government study that found EPA’s current health standard is far too weak. And its response has been grudging—it has done almost nothing to address PFAS that hasn’t been specifically mandated by Congress or compelled by overwhelming Congressional and public pressure.

The stakes are very high for consumers if Beck takes over the CPSC: The seven-year position would allow her to steer the commission’s risk assessments toward industry-friendly methods—what Rosenberg calls “her specialty”—and undermine state-led actions on PFAS, flame retardants, and other toxic chemicals. She would be poised to reverse the CPSC’s planned rulemaking on the use of flame retardants in furniture, children’s products, and mattresses, as well as reverse recently adopted bans on multiple phthalates from children’s products.

“Confirming Beck would bring consumers seven years of bad luck and zero protection,” says Rosenberg. “If Congress cares about public health—and children’s safety—defeating this nomination is absolutely critical.”


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