EPA Action Allows Companies to Withhold Information on Toxic Chemicals

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Environment Colorado

Washington, D.C.—For the first time ever, the Environmental Protection Agency today finalized two rollbacks to the nation’s premier toxic pollution disclosure program, the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).  The changes announced on Monday, December 18 enable facilities to withhold currently reported information about toxic chemicals and restricts public access to information about toxic pollution.

“EPA’s actions take us back to the dark ages when the public knew nothing about toxic releases and when companies couldn’t be held accountable for pollution that threatened public health,” said U.S. PIRG staff attorney Alex Fidis. “EPA is substituting a don’t ask, don’t tell policy for a program that works to protect public health and the environment.”

The TRI is one of the most successful federal environmental programs, and has been praised by environmental organizations, industry, and state and local governments. While the TRI requires companies only to publicly disclose toxic chemical use and pollution, EPA credits the program with contributing to a 40% reduction in toxic pollution over an 18-year period.  In addition to encouraging voluntary toxic reductions, the TRI provides valuable data that is used by the public, firefighters and emergency responders, investors, researchers, and state and local governments.

EPA’s first change to the TRI will limit the amount of data disclosed by authorizing companies to use or release four to ten times more toxic chemicals before they are required to submit a report. The second part of the rule enables companies to withhold information about the use and production of dangerous persistent bioaccumulative toxics. EPA had also planned to change the frequency of submission of reports from once a year to once every two years, but abandoned this proposal in response to intense opposition.

The final rule announced today is opposed by public health and environmental organizations, governmental agencies in 23 states, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and more than 122,000 individual public commentors.  In May 2005, the House of Representatives voted to block EPA from implementing the TRI rollbacks, but the Senate was unable to consider a similar measure before EPA finalized the changes.

“The fundamental purpose of TRI is to inform the public about toxic pollution and to drive voluntary toxic reductions that protect public health by putting polluting companies under a public microscope,” said Fidis. “Restricting public access to toxic data undermines the purpose and effectiveness of TRI and is contrary to the best interests of the public.”