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EPA sued for 25-year failure to test products for endocrine disruptors

The agency has even missed its own deadlines — repeatedly.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — For 25 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to properly test for endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in many food products as mandated by Congress, a coalition of nonprofits claim.

In a 54-page complaint filed Wednesday in federal court, organizations including Pesticide Action Network North America, Rural Coalition, Center for Environmental Health, Organización en California de Líderes Campesinas and Center for Food Safety claim the EPA has violated the Food Quality Protection Act and civil rights by failing to implement the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program by the 1999 deadline set by Congress.

In October 2021 the EPA laid the groundwork for new regulations on these chemical compounds, or PFAS — thousands of toxic chemicals utilized by manufacturing companies to create products like Teflon pans, firefighting foam and water-resistant products like carpets, mascara and eyeliner. The chemical compounds feature a unique molecular makeup that makes them resistant to heat, oil, stains, grease and water — but also allows them to persist in both living things and the environment for decades. The so-called "forever chemicals" have been detected in drinking water, food and in Americans’ blood streams.

The EPA has also said it plans to review past actions taken under the Toxic Substances Control Act relating to PFAS and address insufficient responses. President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan earmarked roughly $10 billion in funds that would be used in part to monitor and remediate PFAS in drinking water.

But the plaintiffs say the EPA’s failure to release a comprehensive management plan this year points to more than two decades of failure to implement the program. The EPA has not reported its progress on the program to Congress since 2010.

“EPA has repeatedly made empty promises and proposed timelines with regard to accomplishing various aspects of EDSP development and implementation, including assay validation, Tier 1 and 2 testing, and more. EPA failed to keep most of these promises, and those it has managed to keep have often been years late,” the plaintiffs say in their complaint.

The plaintiffs are not the first to sue on these grounds. In 1999, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s lawsuit over the failed implementation of the EDSP ended in a settlement. In 2005, nonprofit organizations Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued but the case was dismissed for failure to show a concrete, actual and imminent injury.

But the plaintiffs in the latest case say they have identified multiple pesticides that possibly disrupt endocrine systems which EPA recognized, and myriad uses and products on which the chemicals are sprayed — leading to human exposure. All five of the possible human endocrine disruptors remain registered for use throughout the U.S. despite EPA’s finding they pose a possible human health risk.

For example, cypermethrin is registered for use “on food and feed crops including cotton, pecans, peanuts, broccoli and other brassicas, and sweet corn.” It can be applied to livestock and on industrial, commercial, and residential sites with enormous quantities sprayed across California. Cypermethrin mimics estrogen and can cause changes in female genital organs, and breaks down into chemical metabolites with stronger estrogenic effects than their parent compound.

The plaintiffs say the EPA’s failure to complete testing for 18 identified chemicals for seven years “demonstrates a complete failure” to honor the program’s purpose to safeguard public health. They say the agency didn't meet deadlines imposed by the House Appropriations Committee. The Office of Inspector General reviewed the screening program in 2011 and 2021, both times finding EPA had made little progress.

Congress mandated EPA implement the program no later than August 1999 and tasked the agency with reviewing every registered pesticide chemical for potential human endocrine disruption, and taking action to safeguard humans from chemicals that affect the endocrine system. To date, the EPA has not yet implemented the program and failed to initiate testing for approximately 96% of registered pesticides.

“EPA’s failure to implement the EDSP leaves all humans and wildlife vulnerable to the health harms of endocrine disruptors,” the plaintiffs say in their complaint, adding the EPA has violated the Administrative Procedure Act because it cannot “unlawfully withhold” or “unreasonably delay” agency action, and continues to approve the use of pesticides in vast quantities without adequately considering their potential to impact endocrine systems.

They also say the agency’s preoccupation with developing new screening assays instead delays actually testing of chemicals, despite Congress repeatedly urging the agency to hasten the testing process.

“Its minimal previous action and complete lack of action in recent years indicate that EPA is not on track to ‘provide for the testing of all pesticide chemicals’ anytime in the near future, if at all," the plaintiffs say.

The plaintiffs — whose members include farmworkers and conservationists living and working in areas directly exposed to these chemicals — want a judge to declare that the EPA has violated federal standards, and order the agency to implement the program and test all pesticide chemicals by a court-ordered date.

EPA spokesperson Melissa Sullivan of the Office of Public Affairs said via email Wednesday that “EPA is reviewing the decision."

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