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EPA Airs Plan to Unveil Secret Chemicals
WASHINGTON - March 23 - Spurred by an Environmental Working Group investigation about government and corporate secrecy that cloak the very identity of many industrial chemicals, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to allow unjustified secrecy claims to sunset.
In a notice published last month, the agency said it intended to ask chemical-makers to “reassert or re-substantiate” periodically their secrecy claims, which now cover some two-thirds of chemicals marketed since the 1970’s, under the rubric of “confidential business information,” or CBI. The agency said it aimed to “increase transparency and availability of public health and environmental effects information on chemicals in commerce.”
“This plan would effectively put chemical companies under the microscope, forcing them to defend their claims that a toxic chemical’s makeup and possible risks to the public should remain a secret,” said EWG president Ken Cook. “While I’m quite certain the chemical industry will find this objectionable, EPA is acting in the interest of the public heath, to shed light on risks Americans face from chemical exposures.”
EWG’s analysis, called Off the Books – Industry’s Secret Chemicals, published Jan. 4, 2010, uncovered internal government documents showing that crucial information for about 17,000 of 83,000 chemicals now on the market had been stamped, “trade secret,” including indications of “substantial risk” to human health.
In its story on the EWG analysis, The Washington Post reported that in March 2009, “more than half of the 65 ‘substantial risk’ reports filed with the Environmental Protection Agency involved secret chemicals.”
Mike Walls, a top lobbyist with the American Chemistry Council told the Washington Post in response to EWG’s report that "Even acknowledging what chemical is used or what is made at what facility could convey important information to competitors, and they can start to put the pieces together."
“Most Americans are more concerned about what their families are exposed to than chemical industry behemoths’ fights over trade secrets,” added Cook. “If a chemical being used in consumer goods presents a substantial risk to human health, people have the right to know all about it.”