7 Things We Can’t Believe the EPA Dropped the Ball On

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) celebrated its 40th birthday. And as we have already pointed out, the EPA should be given mad props for all the good work they have done. Among other accomplishments via thankyouepa.com, the EPA has reduced more than 60 percent of the dangerous air pollutants. It has prevented 18 million children from suffering from respiratory disease. And the agency has prevented 205,000 premature American deaths by cleaning up the land and air.

But as the Erin Brockovich types among us might note, the work of cleaning up the Earth is never done. After all, cleaning up after 304 million or so Americans requires some vigilance and extra elbow grease. So here’s a look at seven problems on which we’d like to shine a bright light.

Chromium-6 Is Widespread in US Tap Water
Speaking of Erin Brockovich – did you know that Chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, is actually a common ingredient in American water? Chromium-6 was the chemical that poisoned residents in the Brockovich case. In fact, as many as 31 of 35 major American cities carry the chemical in their water system. As the Environmental Working Group (EWG) points out, “In all, water samples from 25 cities contained the toxic metal at concentrations above the safe maximum recently proposed by California regulators.” Luckily, just after the EWG made this announcement, the EPA issued a plan to help water facilities deal with this problem.

Chesapeake Bay Phosphorus Pollution Worsens
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and is now plagued with dead zones. Why? Because it serves as the dumping ground for large amounts of phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment from the six states that feed into the bay. These deposits choke oxygen and deplete life from the water. The EPA has urged states to develop plans to cut back on deposits, but the EWG notes that most of the plans are seriously deficient. As the EWG points out, “sufficient reasonable assurance that pollution controls identified could actually be implemented to achieve the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reduction targets by 2017 or 2025.”

Chemicals Are Still Common in Beauty Products
Phthalates, triclosan, parabens and more are still prevalent in beauty products. As the EWG points out, “studies link these chemicals to potential health effects including cancer and hormone disruption.” Teenagers are particularly influenced by these chemicals at a time when their bodies are most venerable, as they tend to use more beauty products than adults. As the EWG urges, “The federal government must set comprehensive safety standards for cosmetics and other personal care product.”

Protections Rolled Back as Western Drilling Surges
Oil and natural gas companies are drilling at higher rates than ever before in the American west, often leaving toxic chemicals, tainted water, and clawed-out landscapes in their wake. But the companies are exempt from most major federal environmental laws. As the EWG points out, oil and gas drillers enjoy waivers “under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Superfund, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.” Experts predict drilling will only increase as gas and oil prices rise.

California Chemical Makers Get a Boost
In 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two bills that would eliminate toxic chemicals as the “inevitable byproduct of industrial production, lowering the risk of exposure to synthetic chemicals for California’s people and the environment.” But recently, the California Department of Toxics Substances Control (DTSC) issued a whole new set of regulations that essentially “gut” the Green Chemistry program – leaving it worse off than before.

Mercury in the Air and Food Chain Is Still Prominent
All fifty states have fish-consumption advisories due to mercury in fish. The EPA doesn’t have standards for the coal-fired plants that produce most of the mercury. As The New York Times points out, “Scientists know that coal-burning power plants, industrial boilers, cement kilns and other facilities produce much of the mercury in the environment.”

EPA Denies Petition to Ban Lead in Fishing Gear
Recently, a petition was brought to the EPA to ban the manufacturing, use and processing of lead in fishing gear. The EPA denied it on the basis that “petitioners have not demonstrated that the requested rule is necessary to protect against an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).” The petition was brought in part by the American Bird Conservancy.

Images: compujeramey, idhren, bensonkua

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.