Thursday, May 20, 2010

EPA Expands their Envirofacts Chemical Facilities Database

In keeping with its new policy of transparency and providing access to the public of chemical information, the USEPA has expanded their Envirofacts databases. Envirofacts provides access to a variety of databases on topics ranging from the UV Index to hazardous waste facilities to water discharge permitting to the toxic release inventory (TRI).

Now EPA has added more than 6,300 chemicals and 3,800 chemical facilities regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This follows on the heals of EPAs April proposal to add 16 chemicals to the TRI, which are chemicals that facilities must report periodically because of their highly toxic properties.

Also in April EPA made the ToxRefDB chemicals database freely accessible on the web, and it also made the public portion of the TSCA inventory available for free to everyone for the first time. They also have proposed modifications to the rules that allow companies to claim as confidential business information, which EPA feels industry has abused.

So EPA has taken unprecedented steps over the past several months to make data available to the public. Will it make much difference? Well, most of the public will not really care, and many of those who care won't really know how to interpret or use the information even if they can find it. But public accessibility is the first step in giving the public a chance to understand more. Most certainly there will public advocacy groups who will use the easier access to information to both identify problem chemicals and to educate the public.

So while having more data may create opportunities for misunderstanding by those who don't have the background to understand the context, in general I think more data accessibility is a good thing. Once the public understands how much actually is known about chemicals, especially as REACH and TSCA reform put more data on the net, it is likely that the public will gain more confidence that regulation is keeping them safe. Right now the perception is that we are surrounded by dangerous chemicals that are harming our health. With more actual data available, undoubtably we will find that isn't the case. But at the same time we will be better able to identify those cases where the risks are not considered acceptable.

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