Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bite Taken Out of Chemical Secrecy

Posted on January 27, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Jan. 21 a new practice that will prevent chemical manufacturers from hiding the identities of chemicals that have been found to pose a significant risk to environmental or public health. The policy is a small step to increase the transparency of the nation's chemical laws, and it highlights both the problem of excessive secrecy and the power of the executive branch to make government more open – even without action by Congress or the courts.

The new practice, which took effect immediately upon publication, changes how the agency handles information submitted by chemical companies under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the primary statute regulating chemicals. Under TSCA Section 8(e), chemical companies must notify EPA of any information indicating a chemical substance or mixture presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment. In numerous cases, EPA has allowed companies to hide the identity of the chemical in these reports as a trade secret. Under the new policy, EPA will reject confidentiality claims for a chemical's identity if the name is already publicly disclosed on TSCA's inventory of chemicals in commerce (a list of more than 83,000 chemical substances). The TSCA inventory does not include chemical substances subject to other statutes, such as food additives, pesticides, drugs, and cosmetics.

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