EPA reviews cancer-causing chemical risks post Ohio train derailment

The Biden administration has launched a formal evaluation of vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing chemical, following a train derailment in Ohio earlier this year. Vinyl chloride is used in the production of various plastic products, including pipes, wire, and packaging materials. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will review the risks posed by vinyl chloride, along with four other chemicals used in plastics manufacturing, to determine whether they present an "unreasonable risk to human health or the environment." This process is expected to take at least three years.

The announcement has been welcomed by environmental and public health activists who believe that a review of vinyl chloride is long overdue. Vinyl chloride was classified as a human carcinogen in 1974, and its use in hair sprays, refrigerants, cosmetics, and drugs was subsequently banned. However, it is still found in PVC pipes, vinyl siding, packaging, furniture, car parts, shower curtains, and toys.

Inhalation of vinyl chloride has been linked to liver cancer and other health problems, according to the National Cancer Institute. While PVC plastic is not a known or suspected carcinogen, the use of vinyl chloride in its production raises concerns.

The Vinyl Institute, a trade group representing manufacturers, has expressed its willingness to collaborate with the EPA during the risk analysis process. The institute contends that manufacturers of vinyl chloride adhere to strict safety and environmental regulations and believes that the risk evaluation will confirm the safety of PVC products.

The urgency surrounding the evaluation of vinyl chloride increased after the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in the release and controlled burning of toxic vinyl chloride. The incident raised concerns about the potential formation of dioxins, a known carcinogen, from burning chlorinated carbon materials. However, tests conducted by state and federal officials have indicated that the air and water in the affected area are safe.

Environmental advocates argue that the risks associated with vinyl chloride extend beyond the manufacturing and disposal processes and highlight the need for a comprehensive assessment of all potential sources of exposure.

The EPA's evaluation of vinyl chloride and other chemicals used in plastics manufacturing is seen as a significant step toward strengthening chemical safety laws in the United States. The process will provide valuable insights into the risks posed by these substances and contribute to better protecting the public from toxic exposure.


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