Environmental News: Amendments to Toxic Substances Control Act to be Considered by 2010 Congress
EPA in the News: Government agencies, scientists, researchers and environmental advocacy groups to urge Congress to eliminate provisions in current legislation that currently allows chemical manufacturers to keep names, ingredients and properties of their products secret.
According to an article in the January 4, 2010 Washington Post, the companies that manufacture almost 17,000 chemicals in the United States are currently afforded the right to keep the names, ingredients and properties of their products secret.
When the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was first enacted in 1976, the Act provided chemical companies with the right to request this protection to keep their products, ingredients and formulas secret. 35 years later, this secrecy classification has left even EPA officials without the knowledge or ability to identify potentially dangerous contaminants.
With the scheduled 2010 Congressional rewrite of the TSCA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental researchers, scientists and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) are in agreement that the current legislation has allowed chemical companies to use the TSCA to keep environmental advocates, community leaders and the EPA from protecting the public from the risks associated with chemicals that may pose health risks and cause harm to the environment.
While the chemical companies are required to provide information to the EPA about their products and submit Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA), the EPA reports that more than half of the submissions classified as “substantial risk” were for the “secret” chemicals. The EPA also notes that 151 of the secret chemicals are made in quantities of more than 1 million tons per year, and ten of the chemicals used specifically in children's products.
Chemical Privacy Restrictions Can Result in Delay in Treatment of Serious Illness
In 2009, the inefficiency of the current secrecy laws almost cost a Colorado woman her life. When a worker was injured by a chemical spill occurred at a gas drilling site, he was transported to a La Plata County, CO area hospital for treatment.
While the worker recovered from his injuries, one of the nurses who treated him was exposed to the potentially fatal chemicals. Less than 48 hours later, the nurse was diagnosed with severe chemical poisoning and battling liver failure and pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs).
Her medical team has alleged they were met with roadblocks when seeking full disclosure of the ingredients in the chemical that caused the nurse's near fatal condition. While the company later stated they had provided all information as “legally” required, the woman still lung problems caused by chemical poisoning.
Environmental researchers and advocates also cite instances where unknown environmental pollutants have adversely affected the air, water and soil. Whether the pollutants resulted in disease, property damage or diminished the value of properties in the affected areas, the EPA has stated that attempts to identify the toxic substances and the companies that may be responsible for the pollution are hindered by the current confidentially regulations.
In 2009, the EPA reviewed the confidentiality status of 530 chemicals that had been promoted by name on the manufacturer’s web sites or profiled in industry trade journals. That investigation led to having those chemicals lose their confidentially status.
Moving forward, the EPA intends to urge Congress to amend the TSCA to place the burden of proof on the chemical companies to prove why both existing and new chemicals should be afforded confidentially status.
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