Even with shoddy methods, EPA finds serious chemical risks

A few months ago, I had never heard of 1-bromopropane, so I was surprised to find that this chemical was so present in products I had at home, like the spot cleaners and stain removers for my clothes and carpet, spray adhesives for my crafting addiction, and in the myriad electronic components in our lives.

When I read EPA’s draft evaluation of 1-bromopropane risks, I learned that the Agency found a whole host of negative health effects, including carcinogenicity and reproductive, developmental, and neurological toxicity. It found that 1-bromopropane presented unreasonable risks of cancer, reproductive and/ or developmental toxicity to the general public and especially to vulnerable populations like pregnant women and children.

EPA even found increased risks of post implantation loss (translation: miscarriage) in female mice that “may result from a single exposure during a critical window of development.”

Disturbing, right? What’s even more disturbing is that we found EPA’s evaluation underestimated risks due to methodological and other flaws.

We’ve blogged before about EPA’s inadequate consideration of children and other vulnerable populations, and this draft risk evaluation was no different. Even after stating the potential danger of 1-bromopropane during critical windows of development, EPA still does not adequately consider children’s exposures related to dry cleaners, particularly for children of working-class families.

According to EPA, dry cleaners are open 12 hours a day for 6 days a week equaling around 3,672 hours a year, the Agency also stated that children may be present in the dry cleaner for a 4-hour period after school. But that math doesn’t make sense. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, children of school age spend only about 33% of their time in school or 1,195.2 hours total per year. This means there are 2476.8 hours (67%)  that school-age children spend not physically in school—and if your parents run a dry cleaner, you’ll likely spend your non-school time there, with the same exposure as occupational non-users and potentially more serious health impacts. The 4-hr assumption also ignores children who are too young for school and who may spend the same amount of time in the shop as their parent or guardian due to lack of paid childcare.

Because of these likely scenarios, we think children whose parents or guardians run a dry cleaner can have a chronic exposure to 1-bromopropane at critical developmental windows during their non-adult lives  (from birth to age 18 minimum). But despite this, EPA states that it does not consider exposures to children as chronic and fails to provide any justification.

Another vulnerable population that EPA left out was pregnant women. EPA excluded research that found a possible breakdown product of 1-bromopropane called BPMA in the urine of 99% of 488 pregnant women in a national survey which suggested “the possibility of low level but very widespread non-occupational exposures to 1-bromopropane.”  The Agency claims these studies were excluded because of uncertainty around BPMA, citing a 2016 review panel. But the documents for that review panel actually said the opposite– the panel supported using BPMA out of fear of overlooking a significant potential exposure.

In addition to ignoring vulnerable populations, EPA ignores widespread exposures for the general population. In the evaluation, EPA found ubiquitous presence of 1-bromopropane in air, with inhalation the most likely pathway of exposure. But the Agency excluded these exposures, claiming that 1-bromopropane would be listed as a hazardous air pollutant (HAP). However, EPA has never added chemicals to the list of HAPs since date, only removed them, and the 1-bromopropane HAP listing petition  has been in limbo for nearly a decade. The HAP listing seems unlikely, and regardless, the Toxic Substances Control Act requires a comprehensive assessment of exposures whether or not 1-bromopropane is listed as a HAP.

EPA’s 1-bromopropane risk evaluation needs a serious upgrade; and while it’s making that change the Agency needs to consider what actions it can take to protect people in the meantime.

Like most people, I had no idea about how ubiquitous this toxic chemical was in my environment or about the potential harm it could cause me. Luckily, I have the opportunity to learn about chemicals like 1-bromoproane, but the general public often doesn’t, which means that many Americans could have risky exposures without ever knowing.

So, this begs the questions – if EPA used these shoddy methods and still found unreasonable risk, how much worse is 1-bromopropane actually? And what will it take for EPA to protect the public’s health?