The Bush Administration has adopted regulations that will dramatically roll back Americans' right to know about chemical hazards in their neighborhoods, allowing California industries to handle almost 600,000 pounds of toxic chemicals a year without telling the public, according to an investigation of federal data by Environmental Working Group (EWG).
For more than 20 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program has required industrial facilities to report the release, disposal, incineration, treatment or recycling of 650 chemicals covered by the law. Comprehensive TRI reporting has been 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 just before Christmas, the EPA gutted the TRI by sharply raising the detailed reporting threshold so that only releases of at least 2,000 pounds of chemicals will be subjected to detailed reporting. Facilities that don't meet the threshold must only indicate that they use a chemical. The agency adopted the rollback over the objections of more than 122,000 American citizens, corporations, government agencies and others who wrote in to protest the change. [OMB Watch 2006]
EWG's investigation of TRI data from 2004 found that the proposed EPA rollback deals a crippling blow to Californians' access to information about toxic chemicals in their communities:
- The rollback will allow 274 industrial facilities in 30 counties to stop detailed reporting on the use or release of 595,422 pounds of hazardous chemicals a year. In Los Angeles County alone, 247,097 pounds of chemicals a year from 107 facilities will no longer be subject to reporting. In Alameda and Contra Costa counties combined, almost 66,000 pounds from 29 facilities will no longer be reported. In Orange County, more than 58,000 pounds from 27 facilities will no longer be reported.
EPA Will End Detailed Reporting of nearly 600,000 Lbs. of Waste a Year in California
|County||Facilities reporting releases between 500 and 2000 pounds and waste management activities up 5000 pounds in 2004|
|Number of facilities||
|Los Angeles County||107||123,991||247,097|
|Contra Costa County||15||24,365||34,021|
|San Bernardino County||19||19,341||34,542|
|San Diego County||16||18,768||39,496|
- The rollback will allow 52 California facilities to stop reporting any details of their use or release of toxic chemicals. These facilities will be allowed to handle 69,426 pounds of toxic chemicals a year without detailed public disclosure.
52 Facilities Will Be Exempt From Detailed Waste Reporting
|Facility||Facilities reporting releases between 500 and 2000 pounds and waste management activities up 5000 pounds in 2004|
|Number of chemicals||
|Coatings Resource Corp., Huntington Beach||3||3,103||3,103|
|Westway Feed Products Co, Stockton||1||1,850||1,850|
|Distinctive Appliances Inc Aka Dacor, City Of Industry||1||1,728||2,592|
|Solvay Draka Inc., Commerce||1||1,705||1,710|
|Bardon Enterprises Inc, Santee||2||1,579||1,579|
|Century Plastics Inc, Compton||1||1,473||1,473|
|Prc-desoto International Inc., Glendale||1||1,450||1,450|
|Gillig Corp, Hayward||2||1,381||3,264|
|American Polystyrene Corp, Torrance||1||1,371||1,371|
|P.f.i. Inc., Santa Fe Springs||1||1,369||1,629|
- Chemicals for which reporting will be slashed or curtailed are among the most hazardous to human health. The rollback will end annual reporting in California of more than 41,000 pounds of ethylbenzene, 10,000 pounds of styrene, 12,000 pounds of benzene and almost 16,000 pounds of chromium and chromium compounds - all known or suspected carcinogens. It will also eliminate annual reporting for more than 6,200 pounds of chemicals that meet the EPA's criteria for persistent bioaccumulative toxics, or PBTs - chemicals that present the greatest threats to human health and the environment. [EWG 2006].
- Although the proposed rollback will 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 will drop sharply. All reporting will end for five different chemicals and reporting will drop by 10 percent or more for 69 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]. In 2006, after the EPA first proposed rolling back the TRI, a 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.]