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Stolen Inventory (California)

Stolen Inventory (California)

Bush Administration Plan Would Erode Californians' Right to Know About Chemical Pollution in Their Communities
Monday, April 17, 2006

Bush Administration Plan Would Erode Californians' Right to Know About Chemical Pollution in Their Communities

A Bush Administration proposal to roll back Americans' right to know about chemical hazards in their neighborhoods would let California industries handle almost 1.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals a year without telling the public, according to an investigation of federal data by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program requires industrial facilities to report the release, disposal, incineration, treatment or recycling of 650 chemicals covered by the law. Comprehensive TRI reporting is required for facilities that handle at least 10,000 pounds a year or manufacture 25,000 pounds per year, and discharge or dispose of at least 500 pounds per year of the listed chemical. But in September 2005 the EPA proposed sharply raising the detailed reporting threshhold so that only releases of at least 5,000 pounds would be reported, and reports would only be required every other year. Facilities that don't meet the threshold must only indicate that they use a chemical.

EWG's investigation of TRI data from 2003 found that the proposed EPA rollback would deal a crippling blow to Californians' access to information about toxic chemicals in their communities:

  • The rollback would allow 384 industrial facilities in 37 counties to stop detailed reporting on the use or release of 1,449,479 pounds of hazardous chemicals a year. In Los Angeles County alone, 629,328 pounds of chemicals a year, from 160 facilities, would no longer be subject to reporting. In Contra Costa County, yearly reporting would be eliminated for 116,493 pounds of toxic chemicals; in Orange County, more than 116,079 pounds; in San Bernardino County, 101,198 pounds.
  • The proposal would allow 101 California facilities to stop reporting any details of their use or release of toxic chemicals. These facilities would be allowed to handle 249,433 pounds of toxic chemicals a year without detailed public disclosure. In Los Angeles County alone, 44 facilities that in 2003 handled 93,975 pounds of chemicals would no longer be subject to detailed reporting.
  • Chemicals for which reporting would be slashed or curtailed are among the most hazardous to human health. The rollback would end annual reporting in California of more than 64,000 pounds of ethylbenzene, 62,000 pounds of styrene, almost 30,000 pounds of benzene and more than 56,000 pounds of chromium and chromium compounds - all known or suspected carcinogens. It would also eliminate annual reporting for more than 11,000 pounds of chemicals that meet the EPA's criteria for persistent bioaccumulative toxins, or PBTs - chemicals that present the greatest threats to human health and the environment. [EWG 2006]
  • Although the proposed rollback would reduce the total amount of chemicals used in California that must be reported to the TRI by less than 1 percent, reporting for many individual chemicals would drop sharply. All reporting would end for 13 different chemicals and reporting would drop by 10 percent or more for 30 chemicals.

The TRI is the nation's premiere pollution reporting and citizens' right-to-know program. It is widely recognized as the least controversial environmental program in the country and has been praised by industry and environmentalists as an effective way to increase chemical use efficiency and reduce waste and pollution. The TRI is the only source of chemical-specific information on industrial pollution at the individual facility level. It is an essential source of information for state and local governments and community activists nationwide.

Established in 1986, the TRI imposes no mandatory pollution controls on industry, but instead requires the reporting of estimated levels of release and disposal for 650 chemical compounds (less than one percent of chemicals registered for use in the U.S.) by some 23,000 facilities. This simple act of public disclosure is widely credited with spurring voluntary pollution reductions, with total U.S. chemical releases dropping 65 percent since 1989. [Hogue 2005]. A recent report by a dozen state attorneys general, including Bill Lockyer of California, cited striking reductions achieved by industry since the program began: Boeing Company cut its toxic chemical releases by over 82 percent; Monsanto cut its toxic air emissions by over 90 percent; and the Eastman Chemical Co. cut its releases of TRI chemicals by 83 percent. [Spitzer 2006.]

In January 2006, the attorneys general wrote to the EPA to protest the planned rollback, saying: "The proposed changes to the rule are not consistent with the purpose of TRI - to provide a maximum amount of information regarding toxic chemical use and releases to Americans - but directly contrary to the statutory purpose." The AGs said the proposed changes "violate the old saying: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' " They said:

The changes would significantly reduce the amount of information about releases of toxic chemicals available to the public and as a result would impair efforts by federal, state and local governments, workers, firefighters and citizens to protect Americans and their environment from the harm caused by discharges of toxic chemicals to the air, water and land. In addition to being contrary to the public interest and sound policy, the proposed changes would violate the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, the Pollution Prevention Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. [Spitzer 2006.]
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