EPA program on children's toxic exposure "flawed"
      • Print

According to a new report released yesterday, efforts to protect children's health have been fatally blocked by American industry’s refusal to submit information on the commercial use of chemicals.

In a scathing critique of a voluntary reporting strategy launched with great fanfare under the Clinton administration — and quietly killed in recent years — the EPA’s Inspector General wrote that the Voluntary Children’s Chemical Evaluation Program was a bust.

According to the Inspector General, the much-hyped program was “hampered by industry partners who chose not to voluntarily collect and submit information, and EPA’s decision not to exercise its regulatory authorities under the Toxic Substances Control Act to compel data collection. EPA has not demonstrated that it can achieve children’s health goals with a voluntary program.”

This is not news to anyone who has followed EPA’s uphill battle to regulate toxic chemicals in the environment and in consumer goods. Nor is it news to anyone who has watched the agency’s various voluntary programs fail to win industry cooperation — despite endless "stakeholder meetings" in which companies repeatedly promise to pony up the details about their products' potential health risks.

“It has become very clear that chemicals can affect children both because of their exposure rates and concentrations," R. Thomas Zoeller, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who frequently serves on EPA advisory panels, told me. "If you think about flame retardants in California, for example, the levels of these chemicals in children is very significantly higher than in adults. So I do think it’s disappointing that this entire program wasn’t taken more seriously by both by EPA and by industry.”

Having said that, Zoeller added, “there may well have been some structural issues that made it difficult for industry to comply.” 

The program grew out of the Clinton administration’s 1998 Right to Know directive, geared to give parents sufficient information to protect their children from toxic hazards.

Although the Inspector General lauded the agency for having put a focus on children’s vulnerability to chemicals, the report said the effort was virtually doomed from the start: “The pilot’s design did not allow for the desired outcomes to be produced.”

One reason? According to the IG, “the 23 chemicals selected for the VCCEP pilot were not the chemicals posing the greatest potential risks to children.” Both phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA), for example, were excluded from the start of the pilot program, despite evidence that phthalates can cause cancer, interfere with development, and impair the male reproductive system, and that BPA disrupts the endocrine system and can harm the developing brain, among other hazards. The VCCEP also failed because the project established guidelines for voluntary submission of the data, but never laid out firm deadlines. Only a fraction of the companies that agreed to come forward with their test data actually ever complied, the IG said.

The watchdog pointed out that ensuring the protection of children from exposure to environmental threats is central to the EPA's work. "EPA however," the IG wrote, "lacks an active children-specific chemical management program or framework.”

Even now, despite the VCCEP’s abysmal performance, the IG wrote, “EPA has not developed an alternative program to fill this critical void.”

“This kind of voluntarism isn’t going to work,” said Zoeller. “We need to have regulatory legislation, like Toxic Substances Control Act reform, that really puts EPA in the position of regulating."

Tags: bps, environmental toxins, epa, inspector general, phthalates, toxins, voluntary reporting program

  • Sheila Kaplan is a prize-winning investigative reporter and television producer who specializes in the environment, public health, and the role of money in politics. She is a Fellow at The Nation Institute and a former lecturer in political reporting at the University of Califor...

    Sheila Kaplan's reporter page »

Turn comments off sitewide
children and toxic chemicals


Children Health

This is criminal. We should never leave protecting the health of the most vulnerable population in our society--children--to voluntary actions or whims of those who pollute and produce toxic chemicals. We need corrective action now.

The Definition Rules

The EPA had great success in deregistering the neurotoxic pesticide lindane in 2006. Unfortunately this did not protect children from the most direct exposure to the pesticide when it is used as a shampoo for children with lice.

The definition of pesticide and the collective government knowledge of lindane risks to the environment and human health are set aside when another government agency allows the pesticide to be marketed as a pharmaceutical.

"The U.S. definition of pesticides is quite broad, but it does have some exclusions:
Drugs used to control diseases of humans or animals (such as livestock and pets) are not considered pesticides; such drugs are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration."


With all the scientific documentation in hand EPA was still unable to protect the kids from lindane.

"Protecting children from the potential effects of pesticides is one of EPA’s most important responsibilities. Pesticides have widespread uses and may affect children’s health in a variety of settings. We recognize that children are at greater risk from pesticide exposure. So we set stricter standards to protect infants and children from those risks."


In 2009, more than 150 governments agreed to list lindane in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) for global elimination.

Legislated toxic exposure

Your article is absolutely correct regarding injury to children from industry's toxic emissions. However, legislatively mandated/tax-payer funded dosing with hydrofluosilicic acid, hazardous waste from the phosphate fertilizer industry, should be optional. It tramples our right to choose and thus our freedom.

not voluntary

Thank you Sheila for the article.
Voluntary will never work. Even with legislation the EPA will have to be made to get on and administer it.
Air pollution in Tasmania Australia is a good example of this at http://www.cleanairtas.com

great article -- especially now!

With environmental protection and regulation under assault in Congress, this article is epecially timely.

Toxic chemicals for our children

It all makes me so angry. I have Daughters who are at the time in their lives to become mothers; They are alternative caregivers and avoid the asult of all the poisons in our society as humanly possible. What can we possibly do, when our government and giant corperations have little or no concern about the health of our children in any way. It makes me ill. to have hear this every day on so many issues regarding toxic chemicals in all the things we use day to day. mainley children items. I would like to do more to help with this issue, What can we do?

Where is the oversight?

It is laudable that the IG reported this terrible failure to protect our children. But where is the process by which the EPA is policing itself internally? Wasn't it easy to see as the program sputtered and failed that no one in industry was taking the mandate seriously to protect children? This is chilling and even the IG report would have been missed had not your reporter published this. Thank you.

Other Toxic Substances

This is a disgrace. It is sad to find out that capitalism doesn't give a hoot about our children's health. It's like shooting yourself in the foot. The long history of exposures caused by chemical companies speaks for itself. The grand/children of Vietnam veterans are suffering from the intergenerational effects of agent orange (dioxin). Let that be a lesson to all. If you are the child of a Viet vet exposed to AO join us http://www.agentorangelegacy.ning.com

Login / Signup Voice your thoughts

Comments closed

The comments for this story have been closed. Thank you to everyone who participated.