WASHINGTON - February 13 - It is the category of industrial chemicals that, by consensus, scientists and government regulators the world over worry most about: substances that persist in the environment, accumulate in wildlife and people, and pose worrisome health risks for decades. A dozen of the most notorious members of this class of pollutants, including DDT, PCBs and Dioxins, are the subject of an international treaty signed by 151 nations to date, including the Bush Administration in May, 2001.
A new Environmental Working Group (EWG) investigation of more than a million government and industry chemical test results shows that while the United States' premier pollution reporting system, the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), makes a priority of monitoring 20 "persistent bioaccumulative toxics" from industrial sources, it tracks at least another ten such "PBTs" inadequately or not at all. Eight of them are considered high production industrial chemicals by the Agency's own criteria, and are used and released to the environment in at least 35 states.
One of the 10 chemicals EWG identified in the study, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), was found in more than 95 percent of 2,800 people tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2001 and 2002. Another, anthracene, was found in five out of ten fetal cord blood samples obtained by the Red Cross from US hospitals in 2004. Five of the ten PBTs identified in the analysis have been found in US tap water.
The study's finding that EPA should be tracking a wider array of these persistent, bioaccumulating substances comes as the Bush Administration is proposing to do just the opposite. A pending EPA plan, subject to public comment until January 13, would sharply curtail citizens' 'right to know' critical information about pollutants in their communities.
EPA's proposed rollback of the TRI would terminate reporting of all pollution and disposal information for 228,000 pounds of five PBTs identified by EWG at 123 facilities in 35 states. Ohio would be hardest hit, losing data on 22,000 pounds of hazardous pollutants at 14 facilities.
"The persistent, toxic chemicals we identified in this study are important, heavily used industrial substances, some of which are produced in quantities up to 500 million pounds a year," said Richard Wiles, EWG's senior vice president. "At the very least, Americans have a right to know if companies are releasing these pollutants into their communities. In fact, we should have begun tracking these pollutants years ago. Instead of curbing reports on the most worrisome pollutants to please industry, the Bush Administration should be expanding the tracking system to inform and protect the public."
EWG's analysis is available at http://www.ewg.org/reports/cheminventory/.