Stolen Inventory (National)

EPA's Plan Would Allow Industry to Pollute Communities with Dangerous Persistent Chemicals without Notifying the Public

Friday, January 13, 2006

Stolen Inventory (National)

EPA's Plan Would Allow Industry to Pollute Communities with Dangerous Persistent Chemicals without Notifying the Public

An Environmental Working Group investigation of government and industry data shows that EPA has failed to require public disclosure of pollution data under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) for at least 10 industrial chemicals that meet EPA's own criteria for classification as persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals, a category reserved for chemicals that present the greatest threats to human health and the environment. One of these 10, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), was found in more than 95 percent of 2,800 people tested by the Centers for Disease Control in 2001 and 2002. Another, anthracene, was found in five out of ten fetal cord blood samples obtained by the Red Cross from US hospitals in 2004. Five of the ten PBTs identified in the analysis have been found in US tap water.

EPA would rollback TRI pollution reporting for persistent bioaccumulating chemicals that contaminate tap water and human blood

Chemical Found in:
Anthracene Anthracene was found in 5 of 10 umbilical cord blood samples from babies born in U.S. hospitals in 2004.

Anthracene tests reported by public water suppliers show that 7,966 people in 4 communities drank water contaminated with Anthracene from 1998 to 2003.
1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene tests reported by public water suppliers show that 464,000 people in 45 communities drank water contaminated with 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene from 1998 to 2003.
1,3-Dichlorobenzene 1,3-Dichlorobenzene tests reported by public water suppliers show that 14,000 people in 16 communities drank water contaminated with 1,3-Dichlorobenzene from 1998 to 2003.
Chlorobenzene Chlorobenzene tests reported by public water suppliers show that 1.4 million people in 48 communities drank water contaminated with Chlorobenzene from 1998 to 2003.
DEHP DEHP was found in more than 95 percent of 2,800 people tested by the Centers for Disease Control in 2001 and 2002.

DEHP tests reported by public water suppliers show that 16.9 million people in 1,143 communities drank water contaminated with DEHP from 1998 to 2003.

 

The public, particularly communities near facilities that pollute or dispose of these chemicals, needs comprehensive information on pollution or disposal with PBTs. Instead, EPA has proposed to limit public access to critical pollution information on these and other chemicals under the TRI.

map

The Toxics Release Inventory is the nation's premier right-to-know law, providing pollution information on 650 industrial chemicals to communities nationwide. EPA's proposed rollback of the TRI would terminate reporting of all pollution and disposal information for 228,000 pounds of five PBTs at 123 facilities in 35 states. Ohio would be hardest hit, losing data on 22,000 pounds of hazardous pollutants at 14 facilities.

Collectively, PBTs are the category of chemicals of highest concern to scientists and government regulators. They are among the few chemicals ever invented that have been targeted for global phaseout. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, signed by the Bush Administration, bans or severely restricts 12 of the most harmful PBTs [Stockholm 2004]. PBTs constitute most of the chemicals banned in the U.S., including PCBs and DDT, and they are the industrial chemicals most likely to accumulate in human tissues, including babies in utero who are exposed when the chemicals cross a mother's placenta. Rather than curtailing public access to key pollution information on PBTs, EPA should maintain existing reporting criteria and expand their application to include detailed PBT reporting for the 10 toxic chemicals identified in this analysis.

 

EPA's TRI rollback would eliminate reporting of 228,000 pounds of persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) nationwide

State Facilities Amount
released or
transferred,
pounds in 2003
Alabama 1 2,900
Arkansas 4 10,366
California 8 11,344
Connecticut 2 3,517
Georgia 4 10,002
Illinois 5 8,527
Indiana 2 3,460
Kansas 2 4,633
Kentucky 3 5,900
Louisiana 3 3,386
Maryland 1 2,993
Massachusetts 4 7,568
Michigan 1 557
Minnesota 3 5,154
Mississippi 1 2,618
Missouri 6 9,197
Montana 1 1,949
Nebraska 2 4,472
Nevada 1 4,280
New Jersey 7 14,833
New York 1 2,990
North Carolina 7 11,492
North Dakota 1 1,208
Ohio 14 21,947
Oklahoma 2 2,135
Oregon 1 744
Pennsylvania 6 11,070
Rhode Island 1 4,010
South Carolina 3 5,591
Tennessee 8 17,343
Texas 5 9,011
Utah 1 888
Virginia 2 1,943
West Virginia 3 3,772
Wisconsin 7 16,330
U.S. Total 123 228,130

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from 2003 Toxics Release Inventory.

EPA needs to increase public disclosure of industrial pollutants that persist in the environment and accumulate in fish, wildlife, or humans.

SOURCE: EWG analysis of 2003 Toxic Release Inventory; 2002 Inventory Update Rule; Hazardous Substance Database

 

 

Environmental Working Group analyzed five industry and government datasets containing more than 1.5 million test results for hundreds of high production volume chemicals. The investigation identified 10 industrial chemicals that should be subject to increased reporting under the federal Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program because they meet the agency's own criteria for classification as PBTs. Eight of them are high production volume compounds produced or imported in quantities greater than 1,000,000 pounds at least one year between 1994 and 2002. Inclusion of these 10 in the list of chemicals subject to the Agency's stringent PBT reporting requirements would represent a 50 percent increase in the number of PBTs currently tracked by the TRI.

Five of the 10 chemicals identified by EWG as meeting PBT criteria are subject to pollution reporting under TRI. But these same five chemicals are not subject to TRI's comprehensive reporting required of the Agency for PBTs. If these five were correctly classified by the EPA as PBTs, industry would report, and the public would have access to, substantially more detailed information on pollution and disposal for these chemicals at at least 103 facilities in 32 states. For example, when EPA required more stringent disclosure for 20 PBTs in 1999, total reported pollution and disposal increased by almost 50 percent. For heavily used or highly toxic compounds like lead, mercury, and dioxin, reported emissions increased from 30 to 80 percent.

EPA's TRI rollback would eliminate reporting of pollution with persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) at 123 facilities in 35 states

Chemical Between 500 and 5,000 pounds released or transferred
Facilities not reporting
under EPA Proposal
(percent of all
facilities currently reporting)
Number of States
1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene 5 (21%) 4
1-3-Dichlorobenzene 1 (13%) 1
Anthracene 16 (26%) 14
Chlorobenzene 14 (19%) 12
DEHP 89 (44%) 29
Total 123 (36%) 35

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from 2003 Toxics Release Inventory.

 

Tougher Reporting Requirements for Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic Chemicals After 1999 Have Generated More Information on Pollution

chart

Environmental Working Group, compiled from Toxics Release Inventory data.

Five other PBTs identified by EWG are not currently subject to TRI reporting requirements at all, even though they are clearly toxic and are used in enormous quantities by industry, ranging from one million to 500 million pounds per year. Eight of the 10 PBTs identified were manufactured in or imported to the U.S. in quantities of one million pounds or more in 2002, EPA's most recent year of record [EPA 2002a].

 

 

The EPA acknowledged the unique dangers presented by PBTs when it established tougher pollution reporting requirements for them in October 1999, stating [EPA 1999a]:

Toxic chemicals that persist and bioaccumulate are of particular concern because they remain in the environment for significant periods of time and concentrate in the organisms exposed to them.

Lowering the reporting thresholds for PBT chemicals will ensure that the public has important information on the quantities of these chemicals released or otherwise managed as waste, that would not be reported under the 10,000 or 25,000 pound per year thresholds that apply to other toxic chemicals.

Under the TRI, EPA defines PBTs as chemicals that are toxic, linger in the environment, and bioaccumulate in living organisms [EPA 1999a]. Many of the most hazardous environmental pollutants of all time are PBTs, such as DDT, PCBs, dioxins, mercury and lead.

The TRI should be strengthened, not weakened

 

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.

quote

Established in 1986, the TRI imposes no mandatory pollution controls on industry, but instead requires the reporting of estimated levels of pollution and disposal for a list of 650 chemical compounds (less than one percent of chemicals registered for use in the U.S.). But this simple act of public disclosure has been widely credited with spurring voluntary pollution reductions, with total releases of all chemicals dropping by 65 percent since 1989 from among the program's 23,000 reporting facilities [Hogue 2005]. 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.

Since reporting year 2000, the EPA has required special, stricter TRI reporting for 20 PBTs because of their inherent hazards. For these 20 chemicals and chemical groups, manufacturers and users of just 100 pounds, or in some cases far less that that, must report all pollution and disposal [40 CFR 372.28]. Lowering the reporting limits for PBTs has generated significant new information on PBT pollution.

For all other chemicals, TRI pollution reporting is required only 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.

EPA's proposed changes include raising the reporting amount for all TRI compounds from 500 to 5,000 pounds of pollution or disposal per year, and cutting the reporting requirements from once a year to once every two years.

Raising the reportable amount from 500 to 5,000 pounds would substantially reduce pollution reporting for at least five chemicals that are currently reported in the TRI and meet the EPA's definition for classification as a PBT, but are not yet classified as PBTs. The EPA's proposed rollbacks would eliminate all information on air and water pollution by these five PBTs at 121 facilities in 35 states.

Conclusions and Recommendations

EWG's analysis provides only a partial list of high production compounds for which pollution reporting should be increased because they meet the government's own criteria for classification as persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals. EWG was not able to analyze PBT properties for the vast majority of chemicals on the market because test data are not available. Testing is voluntary in spite of the well-established hazards associated with PBT properties. Clearly, many more PBTs exist where pollution is either not reported or substantially underreported. EPA's attempt to roll back reporting for all chemicals included in the TRI program will deprive communities of information on at least five major PBTs for which pollution data are available from no other source.

PBTs are universally recognized as the one category of compounds for which increased knowledge, monitoring and regulatory vigilance are essential to protecting public health and environment. Instead of limiting the public's access to information on toxic pollutants, EPA should increase reporting of PBTs under the TRI by applying its current criteria to TRI chemicals that meet the PBT criteria, and by expanding the TRI to include PBT chemicals that are not currently reported under TRI at all.

If past experience is any guide, vigilant application of existing criteria for pollution reporting with PBTs will produce significant reductions in pollution for many dangerous PBTs.

 

MAP: EPA's TRI Rollback

EPA's TRI rollback would eliminate reporting of pollution with persistent biocumulative toxins (PBTs) at 123 facilities in 35 states

Map of U.S. showing effect of TRI rollback

 

 

Chemical Between 500 and 5,000 pounds released or transferred
Facilities not reporting
under EPA Proposal
(percent of all
facilities currently reporting)
Number of States
1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene 5 (21%) 4
1-3-Dichlorobenzene 1 (13%) 1
Anthracene 16 (26%) 14
Chlorobenzene 14 (19%) 12
DEHP 89 (44%) 29
Total 123 (36%) 35

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from 2003 Toxics Release Inventory.

 

What is a PBT?

DDT, PCBs, dioxins, and lead are examples of persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals, 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 (TRI), the EPA uses the following criteria [EPA 1999a]:

  • Possesses a degradation half-life (the time it takes for 50% of the chemical to degrade) in the 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.
  • Are reasonably anticipated to cause serious or irreversible chronic human health effects at relatively low doses or ecotoxicity at relatively low concentrations.

PBTs are handled differently

PBTs have long been recognized as an especially dangerous group of chemicals that warrant much tougher scrutiny than non-PBTs. When justifying the creation of special TRI reporting criteria for PBTs, the EPA observed that [EPA 1999a]:

"...PBT chemicals have the potential to cause serious human health and environmental effect results from low levels of release and exposure.

PBTs have been found all over the globe. They contaminate wildlife in the arctic, creatures in the sea, food on the grocery store shelf, and human breast milk and blood. They often persist for years, if not decades, in the environment and typically appear in higher, more dangerous quantities as they move up the food chain to higher predator species and ultimately humans. The toxic chemical hall of shame is dominated by PBTs—from DDT and PCBs to dioxin, brominated flame-retardants, lead compounds, chlordane, and a laundry list of banned chlorinated pesticides.

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.

Even the Toxic Substances Control Act, widely recognized as the most feeble environmental law in the United States, banned the highly persistent, bioaccumulating PCBs, by statute, in 1978. And under TSCA, the EPA can restrict the uses of a new chemical, or even not allow it into production, if it meets the agency's PBT criteria [EPA 1999b]. In 2002 (the last year for which the public has access to data), EPA reported that it took action on 65 new potential PBT chemicals under its authority [EPA 2002b].

Tougher TRI reporting requirements for PBTs

Because PBTs are generally recognized as highly hazardous, there is a special category for reporting PBT pollution under the TRI. Dioxin and lead are two examples of toxic compounds that are subject to tougher TRI reporting requirements for PBTs. In general these tougher reporting requirements demand reporting of far smaller amounts of emissions, which translates into information from a far greater number of facilities.

Quote: The law is having an incredible effect on industries to reduce emissions, and that's good.  There's not a chief executive officer around who wants to be the biggest polluter in Iowa.  Tom Ward, Monsanto Corporation, Quad City Times, June 8, 1990

For chemicals that are not considered PBTs, companies must report pollution amounts to the TRI when they:

  • Handle more than 10,000 pounds or manufacture more than 25,000 pounds per year of a chemical that is listed on the TRI.
  • Emit to air, water or land or dispose of more than 500 pounds per year of the same chemical.

If the company meets either the 10,000 or 25,000 pound threshold for handling or manufacture, but emits or disposes of less than 500 pounds per year, no pollution reporting is required, although a short form is required stating that the company handled significant amounts of the material.

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).


About the TRI

In December, 1984, thousands of people died following the release of a toxic chemical (methyl isocyanate) at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. This tragedy was followed by the disclosure one month later that the same chemical had leaked in smaller quantities at least 28 times from a similar Union Carbide facility in Institute, West Virginia. Eight months later, 3800 pounds of leaked chemicals from the same Institute plant sent dozens of injured people to local hospitals [NYT 1985a, NAP 1989a].

Quote: The enactment of EPCRA was an unprecedented advance in environmental legislation empowering communities with the right to know the nature and extent of toxic chemicals to which they are being exposed - Administration of George H.W. Bush, CEQ, 1992

Following the tragedy in India and the realization that a similar disaster was possible in the United States, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) in 1986 as Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). This legislation requires manufacturing facilities handling toxic chemicals to have emergency plans and coordinators in place in case accidents occur. Additionally, it requires facilities to inform communities and local authorities about the hazardous chemicals handled. Finally, the Act requires facilities to publicly report their chemical waste and emissions, a provision under Section 313 of the Act known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) [EPA 2004a, EPRCA].

The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) has become the nation's premiere right-to-know initiative. It is one of the most widely praised—and successful—environmental programs for industry, environmentalists, and the public. Each year, companies across a wide range of industries (including chemical, mining, paper, oil and gas industries) that produce more than 25,000 pounds or handle more than 10,000 pounds of a listed toxic chemical must report it to the TRI. When the TRI first when into effect, the threshhold was 75,000 pounds annually. If the company treats, recycles, disposes, or releases more than 500 pounds of that chemical into the environment (as opposed to just handling it), then they must provide a detailed inventory of that chemical's inventory.

In 1990 the TRI was expanded with passage of the Pollution Prevention Act to include data on chemical quantities and practices involved in source reduction and recycling. In 1993 President Clinton issued an Executive Order in response to an evaluation of TRI by the General Accounting Office, which further expanded the program to require reporting from federal facilities [EPA 2002c].

EPA then reduced certain reporting requirements in 1994 when it established a system of different "forms" to be submitted for different levels of chemical releases [EPA 1994a]. Larger releases now require more detailed reporting, while smaller releases require more basic reporting. In 1997 TRI was again expanded when EPA mandated more complete data on emissions from incinerators, and required TRI emissions reporting from additional industries not previously included: metal and coal mining, commercial electric utilities that use coal or oil, commercial hazardous waste treatment facilities, petroleum bulk terminals and plants, chemical and allied product wholesalers, and solvent recovery services [EPA 1997a].

This information showed, for example, that hardrock mining is the biggest polluter in the U.S., accounting for approximately half of all toxics releases in the TRI. However, subsequent heavy pressure from the mining industry to eliminate the public right-to-know about their releases yielded some reporting exemptions for certain kinds of mining waste [Earthworks 2005a].

Administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the TRI imposes no pollution controls on industry, but instead requires facilities to report estimated levels of pollution and disposal for a list of 650 chemical compounds—less than one percent of chemicals registered for use in the U.S. This simple act of public disclosure has been undeniably beneficial for industry, the public, and the environment by:

  • Producing broad reductions in emissions for scores of major air and water pollutants;
  • Generating more efficient use of chemicals by industry;
  • Helping to identify and prioritize chemicals of potential concern;
  • Measuring progress toward chemical management goals;
  • Delivering important information on pollution to communities near industrial facilities.

With annual emissions reporting from over 23,000 industrial and federal facilities, the TRI is credited with dropping the total releases of chemicals from all sources by 65 percent since 1989 [Hogue 2005].

The TRI database has provided a foundation of facts to inform and drive policy improvements at the national, state, and local levels. In 2005, TRI data was critical to passage of a new clear-air program in Louisville, Kentucky [UCS 2005a]. In Massachusetts, the JSI Center for Environmental Health Studies (with support from National Network of Libraries of Medicine) conducted a pilot training program on using the TRI to address local concerns. The project was so successful that it is being disseminated to other New England communities [OMBWatch 2005a]. In Minnesota, a workers' union and citizens' groups used TRI data in 1990 to successfully negotiate a new contract with Sheldahl, Inc. to reduce airborne carcinogen emissions by 90 percent over three years [UCS 2005a].

In a 2003 report, the EPA highlighted at least 20 state governments that rely on the TRI program for emergency planning, environmental targeting, risk assessments, standards, legislation, and quality assurance and control [EPA 2003a]. And TRI data has been key to community efforts to reduce pollution in "Cancer Alley" and Lake Charles, Louisiana, the very areas that face chemical challenges in the devastating aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes. As the Union of Concerned Scientists notes, "The Gulf Coast emergency highlights the need for more—not less—information on the release of chemical hazards in order to help us to prepare for any future disasters." [UCS 2005a].

Not surprisingly, the TRI is popular with the public, as demonstrated by public responses to government proposals to roll back the program in the past. The TRI's popularity is consistent with findings from public opinion polls showing that the public considers access to pollution information to be a basic right [Mellman 1999a].

Anyone may petition the EPA to add or delete chemicals from the TRI reporting list. EPA has the authority to revise reporting thresholds for chemicals on that list as long as these revisions still require reporting that constitutes a substantial majority of the total pollution associated with that chemical.

Using this authority the EPA finalized special reporting requirements for persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals in October 1999 based on the ability of these compounds to cause long-lasting harm to wildlife, ecosystems, and in many cases, humans at low levels of exposure. Since reporting year 2000, EPA has required facilities to submit full TRI reports if the facilities manufacture or use any of these PBTs in quantities of at least 100 pounds, or even less for some compounds. For all other chemicals covered by the TRI program, facilities must submit TRI reports only when they handle at least 10,000 pounds a year, manufacture 25,000 pounds per year, or discharge or dispose of at least 500 pounds per year.

 

The EPA proposal

On September 21, 2005, the EPA announced its intention to roll back reporting requirements for all chemicals under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) [EPA 2005a]. Final comments on this proposal are due on January 13, 2006. The rationale for this proposal is to reduce the reporting burden on industry, although it is notable that outside of EPA, there was no perceptible demand for the reporting changes that were proposed, nor were any presented along with the proposal.

The EPA proposal has two major components:

  1. Increase the amount of pollution that triggers TRI reporting from 500 to 5,000 pounds per year. Specifically, chemicals released to the environment in amounts between 500 and 5,000 pounds could now be reported using the TRI short Form A, which requires only a statement that a certain amount of the material was handled, and that the amount did not meet the criteria for full reporting.
  2. Eliminate annual reporting and replace it with reporting every other year.

The first proposal would eliminate reporting of hundreds of chemicals at thousands of facilities across the country. There is no rationale for this change offered other than a reduction in paperwork, yet it is hard to perceive the benefit calculation that accompanied this proposal, given the fact that major reductions in pollution have been derived from the simple act of filling out the forms that accompany TRI submissions.

Currently, if a company handles less than 10,000 pounds of a chemical there is no reporting required under the TRI. If a company handles more than 10,000 pounds but discharges less than 500 pounds of a chemical into the environment, the company can submit a one-page short form called Form A that does not require any information on environmental releases. If a company handles more than 10,000 pounds and discharges more than 500 pounds of a chemical per year, the company must submit a longer form called Form R, which reports detailed emissions, recycling and disposal information. The EPA proposal would raise this threshold for distinction between the less detailed short Form A and the more detailed Form R from 500 to 5,000 pounds of chemical discharges, substantially limiting the amount of pollution reported.

EWG's investigation found that EPA's proposal would have a significant adverse effect on the availability of pollution information for the most hazardous group of chemicals, the persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals. EWG identified five of these compounds in the TRI that EPA has failed to correctly classify as persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals. Given limitations in the data availabe to EWG to conduct this analysis, there are surely more PBTs that are underreported. Under EPA's proposal, reporting for these five PBTs would be eliminated at 123 facilities in 35 states. This loss of information would directly contradict the EPAs stated goal of providing more information on PBT pollution due to the inherent dangers of PBTs, which occur even at low levels of pollution and exposure [EPA 1999a, EPA 1999c, EPA 1999c].

The second proposed change could have a significant adverse effect on the quality and reliability of the data reported under the TRI. Under alternate year reporting, every other year of pollution would not be reported at all. There is clear evidence that pollution varies from year to year based on a number of factors including market demand for products and chemical supply and cost. Eliminating reporting every other year would substantially reduce the reliability of the information that is provided, and leave communities totally in the dark about 50 percent of the pollution in their communities.

Alternate year reporting would also represent another level of secrecy for the PBTs identified by EWG. Not only would 123 facilities in 35 states not have to report at all, the thousands facilities reporting at levels above 5,000 pounds of pollution would only have to report PBT emissions half as often.

 

View summary by pollutant

EPA's TRI rollback would eliminate reporting of pollution with persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) at 123 facilities in 35 states

Chemical Between 500 and 5,000 pounds released or transferred
Facilities not reporting
under EPA Proposal
(percent of all
facilities currently reporting)
Number of States
1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene 5 (21%) 4
1-3-Dichlorobenzene 1 (13%) 1
Anthracene 16 (26%) 14
Chlorobenzene 14 (19%) 12
DEHP 89 (44%) 29
Total 123 (36%) 35

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from 2003 Toxics Release Inventory.

 

Acknowledgments

Principal Authors: Kristan Markey, Timothy Kropp, Richard Wiles, Jane Houlihan, and Chris Campbell

Web design and graphics: T.C. Greenleaf and Kristan Markey

Special thanks to Hema Subramanian and Carrie Gouldin for their help on the project.

The Environmental Working Group would like to thank the following foundations whose support made this project possible: The Henry Luce Foundation, The Beldon Fund, the John Merck Fund, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Streisand Foundation, and the Wallace Global Fund. The opinions expressed in the Stolen Inventory report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the supporters listed above. EWG is responsible for any errors of fact or interpretation contained in this report.

We would also like to thank The Agua Fund, The New York Community Trust, and the Park Foundation for supporting the creation of EWG's National Tap Water Quality Database, which helps demonstrate the need for a stronger Toxics Release Inventory.

 

Methodology: 

Study objective

The objective of the analyses that underly this study was to identify industrial chemicals that meet the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) criteria for classification as persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals, a category reserved for compounds that present the greatest threats to human health and the environment. Specifically, we sought to identify chemicals that meet the Agency's PBT criteria established for stringent pollution reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program. We focused on chemicals meeting PBT criteria that are not among the 20 PBT chemicals currently recognized in the program. In our assessment we considered all chemicals with available PBT data, including those currently subject to standard (non-PBT) TRI reporting, as well as those not subject to any reporting at all under TRI.

We focused our work on identifying PBT chemicals not yet recognized as such by EPA because of the particular risks these chemicals pose to human health and the environment, and because according to EPA such chemicals merit stronger pollution reporting requirements:

Toxic chemicals that persist and bioaccumulate are of particular concern because they remain in the environment for significant periods of time and concentrate in the organisms exposed to them. EPA believes that the public understands that these PBT chemicals have the potential to cause serious human health and environmental effects resulting from low levels of release and exposure. Lowering the reporting thresholds for PBT chemicals will ensure that the public has important information on the quantities of these chemicals released or otherwise managed as waste, that would not be reported under the 10,000 and 25,000 pound/year thresholds that apply to other toxic chemicals.

 

Criteria for classification of a chemical as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic

 

The Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986 mandated a program known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) under which U.S. facilities in a wide range of industries report annually their disposal and emissions of 650 industrial chemicals. Facilities must submit TRI reports detailing waste disposal and emissions if they handle at least 10,000 pounds a year, manufacture 25,000 pounds per year, or discharge or dispose of at least 500 pounds per year, for any chemical covered by the TRI.

Congress gave EPA the authority to set alternate reporting thresholds for chemicals so long as the resulting data continued to capture the substantial majority of releases at facilities. The Agency determined that alternate (lower) reporting thresholds were warranted for persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals because of the unique ability of these chemicals to cause long-lasting harm to wildlife, ecosystems, and in many cases, humans at low levels of exposure:

Current reporting thresholds (10,000 and 25,000 pounds) "are inadequate to ensure that the public has access to important information about the quantities of these PBT chemicals which enter their communities from local industrial facilities. By lowering the existing thresholds to 10 and 100 pounds, EPA believes the public will have access to necessary basic environmental data about these chemicals" [EPA 1999a].

On October 29, 1999, EPA published a final rule which strengthened reporting requirements under the TRI program for 18 persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals and chemical categories under the Toxics Release Inventory Program [EPA 1999b]. On January 17, 2001 the Agency published a rule mandating the same requirements for two additional PBT compounds [EPA 2001a] bringing the total number of PBTs with expanded reporting requirements up to 20. For 15 of these PBT chemicals, EPA lowered reporting thresholds from 10,000 or 25,000 pounds to between 10 and 100 pounds. For five PBT chemicals EPA added first-ever reporting requirements under the TRI, with each chemical assigned strict reporting limits ranging from between 0.1 grams and 100 pounds. EPA assigned a reporting threshold of 0.1 grams for dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, which are considered very highly persistent and bioaccumulative; 10 pounds for 11 of the 18, each of which the Agency considered to be highly persistent and bioaccumultive; and 100 pounds for the remaining six PBT chemicals [EPA 1999a].

In their rulemaking, EPA developed criteria by which chemicals would be classified, for the purposes of TRI reporting, as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic. These are the criteria we have used to identify PBTs for the purposes of our study [EPA 1999a]:

  • Persistence: A chemical is considered persistent (resistant to breakdown and long-lived in the environment) if it is characterized by a degradation half-life, the time required for 50 percent of a chemical to break down, of two months or greater in water, soil, or river and stream sediments. Chemicals that meet this criteria are expected to persist in the environment for a least a year after release. For instance, a chemical with a two-month (60 day) degradation half life remains in the environment at just over one percent of its original amount one year after its release. Persistence is also indicated by a degradation half-life in the air of two days or greater, a lower half-life threshold than that for water, air, and sediment that is dictated by the much faster chemical transport times typical for air relative to other environmental media.

  • Bioaccumulation: EPA defines bioaccumulation as "the net accumulation of a substance by an organism as a result of uptake from all environmental sources," and the related property of bioconcentration as "the nondietary accumulation of chemicals in aquatic organisms" [EPA 1999a]. These properties are represented by parameters known as the Bioaccumulation Factor (BAF) or Bioconcentration Factor (BCF), each of which is calculated as the ratio of a substance's concentration in the tissue of a plant or animal to its concentration in relevant exposure media (water in the case of BCF, and food and other environmental exposure sources in the case of BAF). For the purposes of PBT reporting under the TRI, EPA considers a chemical bioaccumulative if either its BCF or BAF exceeds 1000.

  • Toxicity: EPA's criteria for considering a chemical toxic for the purposes of establishing the chemical as PBT (and requiring more comprehensive TRI reporting) are laid out in the Agency's final rule published in October 1999 mandating expanded TRI reporting for 18 PBTs. In this rule EPA states that the selected PBT chemicals are "reasonably anticipated to cause serious or irreversible chronic human health effects at relatively low doses or ecotoxicity at relatively low concentrations" [EPA 1999a]. This is the criteria used in EWG's assessment.

 

Data sources

 

To assess the persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity of HPV chemicals, Environmental Working Group analyzed five government and industry data resources containing a total of 1.5 million test results altogether:

  • IUCLID (International Uniform Chemical Information Database) [IUCLID 2004a]: This database currently contains records submitted by the international chemical industry on over 2600 international high production volume chemicals. IUCLID was designed to meet the requirements for storing and exchanging information on OECD HPV Chemicals Program, the US-EPA HPV Chemical Challenge Program, the EU Existing Chemicals Program and the EU Biocides Program. It contains records on basic chemical properties (e.g. melting points), persistence (e.g. biodegradation, field monitoring), bioaccumulation factors, ecotoxicity (e.g. fish tests), human toxicity (e.g. developmental toxicity, carcinogenic potential, et cetera to assess the danger to humans), and risk assessments.
  • EPA High Production Volume Chemical Challenge Program [EPA 2006a]: Data maintained by EPA in hundreds of individual PDF-formatted, industry-submitted data summary files, this compilation of SIDS data currently covers nearly 400 chemicals and chemical families that are produced in or imported into the U.S. in quantities of at least one million pounds per year. These data submissions are the result of companies' voluntary participation in EPA's High Production Volume Chemical Challenge Program, and contain information on basic chemical properties (e.g. melting point), persistence (e.g. biodegradation, field monitoring), bioaccumulation factors, ecotoxicity (e.g. fish tests), human toxicity (e.g. developmental toxicity, carcinogenic potential, et cetera to assess the danger to humans), and risk assessments. EPA continues to accept data submissions under this program, and the Agency may eventually transform data contained in these documents into an electronic database detailing the testing results. Although we could not systematically use this data resource in systematic evaluations of persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity, we did use the submissions to verify chemicals determined to be PBTs through other data sources.
  • ECOTOX [EPA 2004a]: Contains over one million records on bioaccumulation and ecological toxicological test results and endpoints covering 8,500 different chemicals broken down in 50 parameters measuring 170 different effects on organisms. This database represents a compilation of various sources of data developed by a wide range of government, industry, and academic institutions, integrated into a single interface by Department of Defense and EPA, with the EPA currently maintaining the database.
  • Environmental Fate Database (EFDB) [SRC 2004]: Contains over 30,000 records in 29 different categories of persistence test results and endpoints (e.g. biodegradation, Henry's Law constant) covering nearly 2,000 chemicals. Developed by the Syracuse Research Corporation (SRC) under the auspices of the EPA. Obtained directly from SRC.
  • Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS) [RTECS 2005a]: Human and animal toxicological information (e.g. developmental toxicity, carcinogenic potential, et cetera to assess the danger to humans) with citations on over 160,000 chemical substances from more than 2,500 sources. Originally compiled by NIOSH and now maintained by Elsevier MDL, Inc. EWG obtained the database from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

 

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Key Issues: