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Chemicals of Concern

Stolen Inventory: Chemicals of Concern

April 10, 2007

The chemicals for which reporting will be slashed or curtailed by the EPA's rollback are among the most hazardous to human health

Benzene. The rollback will end detailed reporting in California of release of more than 84,000 pounds of benzene, ethylbenzene and 1,2,4 trimethylbenzene from 41 facilities. Benzene is widely used to make other chemicals such as Styrofoam, dyes, detergents, drugs, pesticides, and chemicals used in nylon and other synthetic fibers. It is also found in crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke. Benzene is a known human carcinogen, causing leukemia and possibly non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Benzene has also been linked with non-cancer health conditions such as anemia, central nervous system depression, and other nervous system effects. [ATSDR 2005] (More about benzene) Toluene. The EPA proposal will eliminate reporting of release of 30,000 pounds of toluene and toluene compounds from 28 facilities in California. Toluene is used to produce benzene and as a solvent in paints and coatings, adhesives, inks, cosmetics, cleaning solutions, and organic reactions. Long term exposure to toluene-contaminated drinking water may cause serious nervous system disorders, including spasms, tremors, speech impairment, and memory, hearing, vision and coordination loss; it may also cause liver and kidney damage [USEPA 2002a]. Chronic exposure to toluene may also cause skeletal muscle disease, and studies in laboratory animals show that toluene can alter reproductive hormone levels and cause decreased sperm counts. [ATSDR 2005] (More about toluene) Chromium and chromium compounds. The rollback will end reporting of more than 16,000 pounds of chromium and chromium compounds, from 15 California facilities. An unknown amount of this is the highly toxic chromium-6, a known human carcinogen. Chromium-6 exposure has also been linked to lung cancer, chromosome aberrations and damage to the pharynx, larynx, kidney, heart and liver. Chromium-6 contaminated drinking water in Hinkley, Calif., was the basis of the movie "Erin Brockovich." In real life, a lawsuit by Hinkley residents against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. resulted in the largest legal settlement in U.S. history, $333 million. [ATSDR 2005] (More about chromium. More about chromium compounds)

The most hazardous chemicals in the TRI, including DDT, PCBs, dioxins and lead, are persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals (PBTs), which are defined as compounds that "possess toxic properties, resist degradation, [and] bioaccumulate." [Stockholm 2004] Different national and international treaties define specific properties in different ways, but for the Toxics Release Inventory, the EPA uses the following criteria [EPA 1999a]:

Possesses a degradation half-life (the time it takes for half of the chemical to break down in water, soil, or river sediments) of two months or greater. This rate of degradation means that the chemical will persist for at least one year in the environment. Airborne chemicals must possess a degradation half-life of 2 days or more, meaning that they last in the air for about 12 days. Bioaccumulates in the tissues of organisms either through exposure to the chemical in the environment (bioconcentration) or through uptake in food (bioaccumulation). The EPA has created a number of tests to measure bioaccumulation. If these tests show that a chemical accumulates at levels 1000 or greater times in an organism's tissues compared to environment or food levels, the chemical is considered to bioaccumulate. Is reasonably anticipated to cause serious or irreversible chronic human health effects at relatively low doses or ecotoxicity at relatively low concentrations.

PBTs are so hazardous that they are the only group of chemicals to be banned on a global scale by international treaty. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants which came into force in May 2004, bans or severely restricts the 12 most harmful. Under the PBT provisions, any facility that handles 100 pounds of a persistent and bioaccumulative chemical or just 10 pounds of a very persistent and very bioaccumulative chemical - a chemical that meets international guidelines for banning - is subject to full reporting of pollution and disposal. Dioxins are so toxic that companies handling more than 0.1 gram are subject to fully reporting (nationwide, only about 285 pounds are disposed of or emitted annually).

The stricter PBT reporting requirements are, for the most part, not included in EPA's proposed rollback. But EWG has identified five chemicals already covered by the TRI that meet the EPA's own criteria for classification as PBTs, yet have not been made subject to the more stringent reporting rules. [EWG 2006] One of these chemicals are among those for which all detailed reporting will be curtailed in California, because all of the facilities that reported releases in 2004 were under the 2,000-pound threshold.

DEHP. The rollback will end all reporting in California of releases of 6,233 pounds of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, from five facilities. In laboratory animals, fetal exposure to DEHP causes significant developmental toxicity, especially of the male reproductive tract. In adult animals, DEHP causes toxicity to the reproductive organs, adrenal, liver, and kidney. In humans, exposures to DEHP in polyvinyl chloride plastic used in medical applications are of concern, especially for infants and toddlers [Kavlock 2002]. DEHP was found in the blood of more than 95 percent of 2,800 people tested by the Centers for Disease Control in 2001 and 2002 [CDC 2005]. (More about DEHP)