EPA Policy Restoring Public Right to Know About Chemical Hazards Wins Strong Support from Health, Labor and Environmental Advocates

For Immediate Release

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Kathleen Sutcliffe,
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EPA Policy Restoring Public Right to Know About Chemical Hazards Wins Strong Support from Health, Labor and Environmental Advocates

The names of toxic chemicals will no longer be kept secret from the public

WASHINGTON - Twenty-six health, labor and environmental organizations today filed detailed comments
voicing resounding support for a long-overdue change in a U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy that denied public access
to information EPA receives from the chemical industry. That policy and
the resulting Agency practice had allowed chemical companies routinely
to mask the identity of chemicals when submitting information to the
agency about known health and safety impacts. [Click here to see a sample redacted chemical industry report to EPA.]

“EPA’s move brings us toward an age of greater transparency and helps
give people the power to make safer choices about what products to
bring into their home,” said Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman
Lado. “If a chemical is known or suspected to be causing cancer or other
serious diseases, at the very minimum, the public should be able to
find out the name of that chemical. Although it’s the law, in the past
it wasn’t the practice.”

The groups' filing comes as Congress considers legislation that would
overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the 1976 law that
EPA, health, labor and environmental groups, and even the chemical
industry agree has not adequately protected the public from toxic
chemicals. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has declared enhancing
chemical safety to be one of her priorities, and announced the agency’s
new right-to-know policy in late May. At that time EPA signaled its
intent to deny industry claims seeking to withhold the names of
chemicals when submitting health and safety data to the Agency. EPA
announced that it will not only deny future claims, but will review and
challenge such claims made in the past.

“One of the few positive provisions of TSCA is that it clearly puts
chemical health and safety data off-limits for protection as
confidential business information,” said Dr. Richard A. Denison, senior
scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. “Despite this, chemical
companies have as a matter of course claimed the identity of the
chemical in question to be confidential even when providing EPA data
indicating a chemical presents a substantial risk—yielding the perverse
outcome that the public learns only that some unnamed chemical may be
dangerous.”

One provision of current law requires chemical companies to submit to
EPA any studies or data they obtain that indicate a chemical presents a
substantial risk to the public or the environment. According to EPA,
the identities of more than 40 percent of the hundreds of chemicals
covered by reports submitted in fiscal years 2006 through 2009 have been
claimed secret.

On the rare occasions in the past when EPA has reviewed such claims,
it has uniformly found they do not actually qualify for protection after
all. Yet EPA's only recourse is to challenge those claims one by one—a
highly resource-intensive activity that has hamstrung EPA officials. EPA
officials have noted that they review an average of only 14 of the
thousands of secrecy claims made under TSCA annually. EPA's new policy
puts companies on notice that they should not make those claims, and
that they will be denied except in very rare cases.

“Communities of color and low-income communities are particularly at
risk from toxic chemicals,” said Dr. Mark Mitchell, President of the
Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice. “Public access to all
available health information on chemicals is critical to our
communities' ability to inform and protect ourselves from the
disproportionately high exposures to such chemicals that we experience.”

In their comments, the groups urged EPA to take several additional steps in implementing the new policy, including that

  • EPA should implement a system for tracking and publicly
    reporting the status of all reviewed and challenged claims and should
    provide that information on EPA’s website in a timely manner.
  • In reviewing past claims, EPA should prioritize review of claims
    for chemicals for which available information indicate cause for
    concern as to hazard or exposure potential.
  • Where EPA determines that a chemical's identity is not entitled
    to protection in the context of a health and safety study, it should
    also remove any such protection for that chemical in the context of its
    listing on the TSCA Inventory.
  • EPA should require the recertification of CBI claims after no
    more than five years and not allow information to be withheld from the
    public indefinitely without substantiation.
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