PCRM Brings EPA to Court over Cruel and Useless Tests
Many readers will remember the movie Erin Brockovich, that disturbing story about chemical companies dumping millions of gallons of toxic by-products into the environment. While innocent people were being poisoned, government regulators did nothing to stop it. Luckily, the feisty Brockovich unearthed the truth and held the perpetrators accountable.
Unfortunately, a similarly tragic story has unfolded with the EPA’s High Production Volume (HPV) Challenge program. It was presented to the public as a means of keeping poisonous chemicals out of the environment, but it has turned into a wasteful system where the same chemicals are continually tested on animals, yet none is ever banned or reformulated to reduce human exposures.
On Sept. 5, PCRM, along with a coalition of other nonprofit organizations and three individual plaintiffs harmed by toxic HPV chemicals, filed suit against the EPA to stop its cruel “all test, no action” animal testing program that does nothing to protect human health.
HPV chemicals enter the environment via thousands of consumer, agricultural, and industrial products. Despite a 1976 law authorizing the EPA to evaluate the potential hazards of new chemicals before they are produced commercially and to regulate those chemicals that adversely affect people’s health, causing injury, illness, or death, the agency has failed to control these substances.
To improve its tarnishing image, the EPA initiated the Chemical Right-to-Know Initiative (ChemRTK), presenting it as a vital safety measure against environmental pollutants. In reality, ChemRTK is simply a national information bank that makes data about chemicals available to the public. The HPV program is one component of that initiative.
Instead of presuming chemicals dangerous until proven safe (as the FDA does with pharmaceuticals), the EPA permits the use of known toxic chemicals in most household products, including soaps, shampoos, hair colors, perfumes, nail polish remover, detergents, bleach, paints, glues, motor oil, markers, crayons, gasoline, cosmetics, candles, carpeting, and furniture polish.
Studies have shown that exposure to these chemicals can lead to a variety of serious health effects. Plaintiffs John Gentry and Scott Mishler were exposed to toxic substances at work, and both have suffered serious illnesses.
Mr. Mishler, a former journeyman electrician, is no longer able to work due to complications caused by exposure to hydraulic fluid containing trixylenyl phosphate, an HPV chemical slated for re-testing. Tests done in 1984 and 1995 showed that although trixylenyl phosphate does not kill rats, phosphate-based hydraulic fluids can cause severe damage to the human nervous system.
Similarly, Mr. Gentry was continually exposed to hydraulic fluid on the job. As a result of this exposure, he suffered from a variety of neurological symptoms, including vision problems, tremors, dizziness, difficulty speaking, and disorien- tation, and he continues to suffer from chemical sensitivities, constant fatigue, memory loss, mood swings, and a permanent loss of his sense of smell.
Plaintiff Rosa Naparstek has multiple chemical sensitivities syndrome, an illness caused by toxic chemicals in the environment. Many HPV chemicals in common products cause Ms. Naparstek to experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, and muscle and joint pain.
The HPV program encourages chemical companies to conduct screening-level animal toxicity tests on HPV chemicals. For instance, the acute toxicity test reveals how much turpentine experimenters can force-feed a rat before he dies (in what is unquestionably an excruciatingly painful death) or what happens to rabbits when highly corrosive chemicals are rubbed on their skin. All the while, humans continue to be exposed to these very substances on a daily basis.
The lawsuit challenges the manner in which the HPV program was developed and implemented. In particular, in violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the HPV program was devised in secret through closed-door negotiations between the EPA, chemical industry representatives, and one environmental group, Environmental Defense. Had members of the public been able to participate, as they had a legal right to do, they would have been able to argue against the use of animal test methods and in favor of more useful nonanimal test methods.
What to Do
Contact your representative and senators, asking them to provide the EPA with sufficient funding for the development and validation of nonanimal test methods. Information on how to contact your senators or representative can be found at www.house.gov/writerep and www.senate.gov/contacting or by calling the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121.