Monday, March 28, 2011

EPA Declassifies Previously Confidential Health and Safety Study Information

Following through on its efforts to increase transparency, the USEPA last week declassified the chemical identities of a total of 42 health and safety studies.  Sounds all CIA and spy-ish, doesn't it.  Previously the chemical identity for each of these studies was considered protected by confidential business information (CBI).  Now the public can not only see the studies but know on what chemicals the studies were done.

According to EPA's press release, "in 2010, EPA both challenged industry to declassify unwarranted CBI claims and issued new guidance on EPA's review and declassification process for confidentiality claims for the identity of a chemical in health and safety studies."  So "the posted declassifications of confidentiality claims are the result of both the Agency's and industry's review of CBI claims."

EPA plans to post CBI declassifications on its web site "on a regular basis."  Almost all of the studies had been submitted as part of Section 8(e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This section of the law "requires U.S. chemical manufacturers, importers, processors, and distributors to notify EPA immediately after obtaining information on any of their chemical substances or mixtures that reasonably supports the conclusion that such substance or mixture presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment. 8(e) notices should be submitted within 30 calendar days after obtaining information that a substance or mixture presents a substantial risk."  In other words, any information suggesting substantial risk.

More information and a list of the documents being declassified can be found here.

Industry is wary of the declassifications, noting that confidential business information protections are needed to keep competitors from finding out what chemicals go into various products.  The NGO, Environmental Defense Fund, on the other hand, welcomed the release.  As EDF scientist Richard Denison put it:

I am very glad to see EPA's payment of this first dividend on its promise to ensure that health and safety information submitted under TSCA is, as Congress clearly intended, made publicly available — including the identity of the chemicals to which the information pertains.  EPA needs also to provide the public with the means to track the status of EPA's challenges, reviews and determinations pertaining to the legitimacy of CBI claims, and of industry's compliance with or challenges to EPA's noble effort...As this effort proceeds, let's hope it reaches the hundreds or thousands of other studies that should have been made public long ago.

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