Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Harmful chemicals in our environment that never get reported

My bold:

The 33-year old law that was supposed to ensure that Americans know what chemicals are in use around them, and what health and safety hazards they might pose, has produced a regulatory black hole, a place where information goes in – but much never comes out.

The reason is that under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the chemical industry has been allowed to stamp a “trade secret” claim on the identity of two-thirds of all chemicals introduced to the market in the last 27 years, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis of data obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These include substances used in numerous consumer and children’s products.

EWG’s analysis also showed that:

* The public has no access to any information about approximately 17,000 of the more than 83,000 chemicals on the master inventory compiled by the EPA.
* Industry has placed “confidential business information” (CBI) claims on the identity of 13,596 new chemicals produced since 1976 – nearly two-thirds of the 20,403 chemicals added to the list in the past 33 years.
* Secrecy claims directly threaten human health. Under section 8(e) of TSCA, companies must turn over all data showing that a chemical presents “a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment.” By definition compounds with 8(e) filings are the chemicals of the greatest health concern. In the first eight months of 2009 industry concealed the identity of the chemicals in more than half the studies submitted under 8(e).
* From 1990 to 2005, the number of confidential chemicals more than quadrupled – from 261 to 1,105 -- on the sub-inventory of substances produced or imported in significant amounts (more than 25,000 pounds a year in at least one facility). In July 2009 the EPA released the identity of 530 of these chemicals, lowering the number of these moderate- and highproduction volume secret chemicals to 575.
* At least 10 of the 151 high volume confidential chemicals produced or imported in amounts greater than 300,000 pounds a year are used in products specifically intended for use by children age 14 or younger.
Americans have no way to learn crucial information about more than 65 percent of new chemicals approved by the U.S. government since 1977, including the substances’ makeup and what health and safety hazards they might pose. Those “details” are being kept secret under federal policies that allow industry to claim that the chemicals’ very existence is a trade secret, the Environmental Working Group has learned.

This cloak of secrecy applies even to chemicals that industry identifies as presenting “a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment.” Under the law, companies must tell EPA anytime they find such a risk. EWG has learned, however, that in the first quarter of this year, industry used confidentiality claims to conceal the identity of more than half the chemicals it reported to Environmental Protection Agency under this requirement.

Since the EPA began keeping an inventory of known chemicals under the weak Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the number of agents declared to be “confidential” has ballooned to nearly 17,000, according to the information the agency provided.
And the Washington Post:
Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States -- from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners -- nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision.

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics -- including the Obama administration -- say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.

At a time of increasing public demand for more information about chemical exposure, pressure is building on lawmakers to make it more difficult for manufacturers to cloak their products in secrecy. Congress is set to rewrite chemical regulations this year for the first time in a generation.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, manufacturers must report to the federal government new chemicals they intend to market. But the law exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.

Government officials, scientists and environmental groups say that manufacturers have exploited weaknesses in the law to claim secrecy for an ever-increasing number of chemicals. In the past several years, 95 percent of the notices for new chemicals sent to the government requested some secrecy, according to the Government Accountability Office. About 700 chemicals are introduced annually.

Some companies have successfully argued that the federal government should not only keep the names of their chemicals secret but also hide from public view the identities and addresses of the manufacturers.
h/t to Lisa Frack of the Enviroblog.

(Note: I can't label specifics until I get my tags under 5000.... very frustrating and time consuming. So I can't label the TSCA, the EWG, and others... yet.)


Steve Bates said...

"Americans have no way to learn crucial information about more than 65 percent of new chemicals approved by the U.S. government since 1977, including the substances’ makeup and what health and safety hazards they might pose."

Of course they have ways. At present, they have no legal ways, but that's a different matter.

Splat one or two of the worst "trade secrets" across a front page (probably NOT WaPo; that won't happen) and watch the others run to comply.

OK now, who's up for a stretch for burglary, in exchange for saving everyone's life?

ellroon said...

They guard their secret formulas better than the gold in Fort Knox.

Maybe if we appealed to the ethical side of the chemists who work in these places? .... Surely some of them have kids....