Court Puts EPA in Check on Flawed Toxic Chemical Regulations

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court in California ruled today that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), when evaluating the risks of toxic chemicals, cannot ignore harmful exposures to asbestos and other chemicals that are still in use, but no longer being manufactured.  The court also concluded that the EPA’s own rules do not give it discretion to choose between evaluating some uses of a chemical and not others.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and Cape Fear River Watch filed the lawsuit in August 2017, challenging Trump administration’s rules issued in July 2017 for evaluating the risks of toxic chemicals.  Those rules address how the EPA planned to prioritize chemicals and evaluate their health risks under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The following is a statement by Sarah Tallman, a senior litigation attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, who argued the case in the 9th circuit for the plaintiffs:

“This means under the agency’s rules, the Trump EPA—an agency whose policy favors chemical manufacturers like Dow and Dupont—can’t intentionally blindfold itself.  It can’t pick and choose between uses of chemicals it wants to consider and uses it doesn’t.”  

The following is a statement by Daniel Rosenberg, director of federal toxics for the Healthy People and Thriving Communities Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“EPA’s toxic chemicals policy took a huge hit in this decision.  It will have to change its approach to evaluating toxic chemicals.  The court put off deciding some issues, but today’s decision is a sign that the Trump EPA’s industry-friendly policy is starting to unravel.”

The following is a statement by Kemp Burdette, Riverkeeper at Cape Fear River Watch, a petitioner in the case:

“This decision is a big win for the millions of North Carolinians who get their drinking water from the Cape Fear River, which has high levels of 1-4 dioxane and numerous PFAS chemicals. The court shut down the potential for the Trump Administration to disregard some of the risks from these dangerous chemicals, including from contaminated drinking water. Now we can work to get these dangerous and toxic chemicals out of our drinking water.”

The following is a statement by Katie Huffling, Executive Director of Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, a petitioner in the case:

“People, and especially kids, are often exposed to toxic chemicals from multiple sources and products in ways that add up and harm their health. This decision is a big win for health, because it means that when EPA evaluates a chemical’s risks, it cannot cherry-pick which risks to consider, while ignoring others."


Congress passed TSCA in 1976 and updated the law in June 2016 to strengthen the agency’s program to evaluate and review toxic chemicals after a lengthy bipartisan effort to modernize the law.  

The EPA announced the first 10 industrial chemicals it would assess and consider regulating in November 2016.

Additional petitioners in the consolidated lawsuit include:

  • Earthjustice on behalf of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Environmental Health Strategy Center, Environmental Working Group, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, We Act for Environmental Justice;
  • United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO/CLC;
  • Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization; and,
  • the Environmental Defense Fund.

A copy of the opinion is available here.

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC


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