The proposed bans targeted methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), ingredients in paint strippers, and trichloroethylene (TCE), used as a spot cleaner in dry-cleaning and as a degreasing agent.
Under an overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act last year, the E.P.A. initially is reviewing the risks of ten chemicals, including other uses of these three. The updated law is known as the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, named after the late New Jersey senator who had long championed an overhaul of the loophole-ridden toxic substances law.
The revised law had strong bipartisan support. The Senate passed the measure on a voice vote; the House approved it 403 to 12. The intention was to give the E.P.A. the authority necessary to require new testing and regulation of thousands of chemicals used in everyday products, from laundry detergents to hardware supplies.
In a compromise that disappointed some environmental advocates, the law required the E.P.A. to examine about 20 chemicals at a time, for no longer than seven years per chemical. But the law expressly allowed for faster action on high-risk uses of methylene chloride, NMP and TCE.
Public health experts had been pushing for faster review of methylene chloride-based paint strippers after several deaths from inhalation, among them a 21-year-old who died recently after stripping a bathtub.
It has been several years since the E.P.A. first declared these applications of the three chemicals to be dangerous. The agency itself has found TCE “carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure” and has reported that it causes developmental and reproductive damage.
“Potential health concerns from exposure to trichloroethylene, based on limited epidemiological data and evidence from animal studies, include decreased fetal growth and birth defects, particularly cardiac birth defects,” agency officials noted in 2013.
Methylene chloride is toxic to the brain and liver, and NMP can harm the reproductive system.
Michael Dourson, President Trump’s nominee to oversee the E.P.A.’s chemical safety branch, in 2010 represented the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance before the E.P.A., which was considering restrictions on TCE.
Mr. Dourson, who withdrew his name from consideration last week, had been working as an E.P.A. adviser while awaiting confirmation. The agency did not respond to a query about whether Mr. Dourson had been involved in the evaluation of TCE.
The E.P.A. now describes the enforcement actions regarding TCE, methylene chloride and NMP as “long-term actions’’ without a set deadline.
“The delays are very disturbing,” said Dr. Richard Denison, lead senior scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund. “This latest agenda shows that instead of using their expanded authorities under this new law, the E.P.A. is shoving health protections from highly toxic chemicals to the very back of the back burner.”
Representative Frank Pallone, Democrat of New Jersey and the ranking minority member of the House Energy and Commerce committee, agreed, saying, “These indefinite delays are unnecessary and dangerous.”
“The harmful impacts of these chemicals are avoidable, and E.P.A. should finalize the proposed rules as soon as possible,’’ he added.
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