The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a new Chevron boat fuel ingredient made from discarded plastic, despite its own risk assessment revealing a cancer risk a million times higher than what is usually deemed acceptable. Even though the substance’s hazard level was considered unprecedented by the EPA scientists, the agency gave Chevron permission to produce the fuel component without any substantial remedies. The EPA’s decision is facing challenges from six environmental organizations and has drawn concerns from lawmakers. This event raises questions about the efficacy of the agency’s safety review process and its alignment with the federal laws that require it to mitigate unreasonable risks to health or the environment.
- Unprecedented Risk Assessment: The new Chevron fuel ingredient has a lifetime cancer risk of 1.3 in 1, meaning every person exposed to it continuously over their lifetime would be expected to develop cancer. This risk is far greater than what the EPA usually considers acceptable.
- EPA Approval Despite Known Risks: Although the law requires the EPA to conduct safety reviews and reduce risks if a substance is found to be hazardous, the agency decided its scientists were overstating the risks and approved the new fuel ingredient without major remedies. They only mandated that workers should wear gloves.
- Challenges and Scrutiny: Six environmental organizations are challenging the EPA’s characterization of the cancer risks, accusing it of failing to protect people. Senator Jeff Merkley has also expressed concern over the high cancer risks and the EPA’s approval using a program intended to address the climate crisis.
- Possible Miscommunication: The EPA acknowledged that it had mislabeled critical information about the harmful emissions, which led to confusion regarding the source of pollution in a consent order. This miscommunication could be an indication of a deeper issue in the agency’s processes.
- Concerns Over Chevron’s New Fuels: This case is part of a broader pattern of risks associated with new plastic-based Chevron fuels. In February, ProPublica and the Guardian reported on the risks of other Chevron fuels that were also approved by the EPA, highlighting a continuing trend in questionable approvals.