EPA changes would improve public access to data

A recent OMB Watch story covers the EPA’s latest attempt to leverage the Toxic Substances Control Act to make it easier for the public to access chemical data and harder for manufacturers to hide health and safety related information behind the “trade secrets” label.

Fire and emergency response personnel practice techniques for hazardous materials containment and removal.

Fire and emergency response personnel practice techniques for hazardous materials containment and removal. (CDC photo)

The key is the expansion of the Inventory Update Reporting rule, which requires companies to report toxic substances over a certain weight threshold. According to OMB Watch, the Bush administration bumped this threshold from 10,000 to 25,000 pounds, and decreased reporting frequency from every four years to every five years.

The proposed rule lowers or eliminates thresholds for reporting and increases reporting frequency, moves that should provide the public with more information on more chemicals. The amount of a chemical manufactured at a facility in any given year fluctuates widely. … EPA’s proposed rule would require a manufacturer to submit information on a chemical if the volume exceeds the 25,000-pound threshold for any year since the previous submission. The agency is also proposing to return the reporting frequency to every four years rather than every five. Additionally, EPA is proposing requiring all reporters to submit data on the processing and use of the chemicals. The current program requires such reporting only for chemicals manufactured or imported over 300,000 pounds.

The manufacturers would use EPA-provided software to report their chemical inventory – currently, most manufacturers submit paper reports. The paper reports take years to process and the data-entry process introduces extra error into the system.

Another proposed change would require reporting of a number of valuable pieces of information, such as yearly production volumes, more specific chemical names and numbers to ensure the correct chemical substances are identified, and the approximate number of workers exposed to the chemicals.

Furthermore, manufacturers currently can label just about anything as “confidential business information,” the new rules would place annual limits on the practice and require manufacturers to justify any such designations.

The Society of Environmental Journalists wrote about the issue back in March and included a link to a report [PDF] from the EPA’s Inspector General, as well as other coverage.

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