EPA Takes Action on Gender-Bending Chemical

On august 18th, The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will begin creating clean water protections from nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), a highly toxic, gender-bending chemical widely used in industrial laundry detergents.  Exposure to low levels of NPE has been shown to create “intersex” fish, male fish that produce female egg proteins. Cases of such “intersexed” fish have been documented from the Potomac River to the Pacific coast.

Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center and Workers United/SEIU joined today in praising EPA’s action. The plan announced by EPA includes further health and safety studies of the effects of NPEs on people and the environment, while beginning the process to regulate the chemical under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Future actions would add NPEs to the Toxics Release Inventory and encourage the use of safer substitutes.

“Union members have been demanding government and industry action on toxic detergents for over half a decade. The detergents have been banned in Europe and Canada for almost a decade,” said Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Director for Workers United/SEIU. “We commend Administrator Jackson for acting swiftly on these hazards, and call upon the laundry industry to get rid of these chemicals immediately, as they have already done Canada and in Connecticut.”

“We know these chemicals are highly toxic and we know there are safer alternatives,” said Albert Ettinger, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “If we want to protect public health, then NPEs should stop being used for many of their current applications. This action by the EPA is an important step in that direction.”

“When chemicals in our environment, such as NPEs, affect the gender of fish, it’s a danger sign that more scrutiny is needed for chemicals we produce and use.  The action plan for NPEs that EPA announced today is a welcome first step to protect wildlife and human health,” said Ed Hopkins, Director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program.”But Congress must give EPA the regulatory tools it needs to control dangerous chemicals more effectively.”

In 2007, Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Workers United (formerly UNITE HERE), Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Washington Toxics Coalition petitioned the EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act to require further toxicity testing of NPEs and to take steps to control it.  EPA largely denied the petition, but following litigation and an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, today’s action marks initial steps by the Obama administration to address NPEs health and environmental risks.

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