Off the Books: Industry’s Secret Chemicals

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Off the Books: Industry’s Secret Chemicals

Thousands of Chemical Names and Ingredients Kept Under Wraps At EPA

WASHINGTON - Americans are denied crucial information about more than 65 percent
of new chemicals approved by the U.S. government since the mid 1970's,
including the substances' makeup and what health and safety hazards
they might pose.

Why? 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 chemicals used in numerous consumer and children's
products.

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.

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 newchemicals produced since 1976 - nearly two-thirds of the 20,403 chemicals added to the list in the past 33 years.
  • 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 moderate-
    and high-production volume secret chemicals to 575.
  • 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."
    In the first quarter of 2009, industry concealed the identity of more
    than half the chemicals for which studies were submitted under 8(e).
  • 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.

TSCA's failings have been repeatedly documented by the Government
Accountability Office, in Congressional hearings and by independent
investigations. But it has generally been assumed that at a minimum,
the law required an accurate public inventory of chemicals produced or
imported in the United States. As this investigation shows, it does
not.

Instead we have a de-facto witness protection program for
chemicals, made possible by a weak law that allows broad confidential
business information (CBI) claims, combined with EPA's historic
deference to business assertions of CBI.

"The chemical industry has turned TSCA -- a law once thought to
protect people and the environment - into its own witness protection
program, where it has safely stashed the very existence of thousands of
chemicals behind the doors at EPA," said Richard Wiles, Senior VP for
Policy and Communications at EWG. "Mafia informants don't enjoy the
level of protection these secret chemicals receive under the federal
toxics law," added Wiles.

EPA data compiled in response to an EWG information request show
that a large number of these secret chemicals are used every day in
consumer products, including artists' supplies, plastic products,
fabrics and apparel, furniture and items intended for use by children.
But EPA cannot share specific information on these chemicals even
within the agency or with state and local officials.

No one except a few select EPA employees has any knowledge of their
identity, and even they usually know nothing about their potential
hazards to human health or the environment.

"Industry has a stranglehold on every aspect of information needed
to implement even the most basic health protections from chemicals in
consumer products and our environment," wrote Wiles and David Andrews,
authors of the EWG analysis.

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The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. EWG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles.

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