Looks like what we don’t know CAN hurt us.
Here’s a little good news for people concerned about public health: the EPA released the names of 150 chemicals, the identities of which had been kept secret, to the public earlier this month. The New York Times describes the effort by the EPA as intended “to reform what it views as a flawed system for regulating toxic substances. It is the second disclosure of its kind this year, after the release of 40 chemicals’ names in March.” For those who aren’t familiar with EPA regulations, chemicals are often allowed to remain secret because they’re essentially assumed to be safe until proven otherwise, and because industry demands they be kept secret for proprietary reasons…
The identities of the chemicals have been withheld under the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 1976 law that grandfathered most already-existing chemicals and authorized the EPA to set reporting and testing requirements for chemical substances.
At the time of the law’s passing, industrial chemicals were deemed innocent until proven guilty, meaning that it was the E.P.A.’s responsibility to show that a chemical posed a potential risk, not the manufacturer’s to demonstrate its safety. Since 1976, 22,000 new chemicals have been approved by the agency; 62,000 were already on the market when the law was passed.Although the agency has the authority to review and challenge the confidentiality requests, it has lacked the capacity to cope with the tens of thousands filed each year. On average, only about 14 cases have been reviewed annually, although that pace is now accelerating.
When health and safety data have been submitted to the E.P.A. on a specific chemical, the bar in theory is supposed to be set higher, allowing the chemical’s name to be withheld only if a study reveals sensitive details of the chemical’s manufacturing process or a specific, proprietary formulation. Yet once a chemical’s name had been protected as confidential during its early development, its identity tended to remain confidential indefinitely.
The 150 chemicals include several components of Corexit, a dispersant used after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.
The American Chemistry Council, meanwhile, continues to argue that trade secrets have to be protected. ‘It’s important that the EPA continue to recognise legitimate claims to safeguard intellectual property from competitors,’ said an ACC spokesman, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.
To date, the EPA has made public information about 22 of Proctor & Gamble’s (P&G) chemical formulations, none of which have ever been on the market. ‘We do have a problem with it because these are all R&D mixtures that remain within our R&D portfolio…that aren’t typically disclosed for competitive reasons,’ P&G’s US regulatory affairs manager, Julie Froelicher says.P&G is concerned that the EPA has set a precedent where chemical companies will be required to disclose more and more proprietary chemical information.
Medical professionals and ecologists, however, will be able to use the information to better understand the risks that exposure to the chemicals on the list pose to humans and wildlife.