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The EPA's fight against cancers

Illustration of a pipette and a droplet that is shining like the sun.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The EPA is becoming a key part of President Biden's efforts to tamp down cancer rates.

Why it matters: The big question is whether regulating the chemicals industry will produce the substantially lower cancer rates that the administration seeks.

  • Chemical exposures can lead to cancer, which are trending higher than ever. But industry is fighting the government's risk assessments.

Driving the news: EPA Tuesday announced a new rule clamping down on air emissions from at least 200 chemical facilities.

  • The rule is focused on plants that produce ethylene oxide, used for sterilizing medical equipment, and chloroprene, which is used in rubber.
  • Officials have marketed this as a part of Biden's "cancer moonshot," which aims to "end cancer as we know it."

Between the lines: The moonshot program has expanded from medical innovation to contamination, following pleas from environmental health experts.

Zoom in: EPA told Axios that the rule would reduce the risk of air toxics–related cancer within six miles of an impacted facility by 96% and potentially curb cancer incidence within 31 miles of an impacted facility by more than about 60%.

What companies are saying: The industry contends EPA is using an overblown risk value for ethylene oxide.

  • Tom Flanigan of the American Chemistry Council told Axios that using the risk value contributed to the rule becoming "based on inflated risks and speculative benefits."
  • Denka, which owns a major chloroprene plant in Louisiana, said in a statement it is exploring legal options for challenging the rule. It claimed EPA's compliance deadline would "force" idled operations.

What we're watching: It's probably only a matter of time before Congress takes up this rulemaking, given the heavy impact in House Speaker Mike Johnson's home state.

  • Republicans have previously sought to challenge efforts to restrict ethylene oxide emissions specifically via appropriations and oversight tactics. Expect more of that.
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