Monday, December 22, 2008
EPA veils hazardous substances Agency keeps facts from public in registry of dangerous chemicals...
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
CHEMICAL FALLOUT A JOURNAL SENTINEL WATCHDOG REPORT EPA veils hazardous substances Agency keeps facts from public in registry ofdangerous chemicals
by SUSANNE RUST and MEG KISSINGER
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency routinely allows companies tokeep new information about their chemicals secret, including compoundsthat have been shown to cause cancer and respiratory problems, theJournal Sentinel has found.
The newspaper examined more than 2,000 filings in the EPA's registryof dangerous chemicals for the past three years. In more than half thecases, the EPA agreed to keep the chemical name a secret. In hundredsof other cases, it allowed the company filing the report to keep itsname and address confidential.
This is despite a federal law calling for public notice of any newinformation through the EPA's program monitoring chemicals that posesubstantial risk. The whole idea of the program is to warn the publicof newfound dangers.
The EPA's rules are supposed to allow confidentiality only "under verylimited circumstances."
Legal experts and environmental advocates say the practice of"sanitizing," or blacking out, this information not only strips vitalinformation from the public, it violates the agency's own law.
Section 14 of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the foundation for allthe EPA's toxic and chemical regulations, stipulates that chemicalproducers may not be granted confidentiality when it comes to healthand safety data.
"The EPA has chosen to ignore that," said Wendy Wagner, a lawprofessor at the University of Texas-Austin.
The newspaper's findings are just the latest example of how EPAadministrators more often than not put company interests above theneeds of consumers. Over the past 18 months, the Journal Sentinel hasreported on numerous EPA programs that bow to corporate pressure,frustrating health and environmental advocates and disregarding theagency's own mission to inform the public of potentially dangerouschemicals.
The EPA has the authority to fine companies that fail to fullydisclose information about dangerous chemicals. And, in at least oneinstance, it has done so. But critics say the program has been allowedto flounder, and the agency rarely challenges a company's request forconfidentiality.
It's been frustrating to see the program "starved of resources andgenerally abandoned," said Myra Karstadt, a toxicologist who worked onthe EPA's program from 1998 to 2005. "It's a very worthwhile programbut only if it's given a chance to work."
Intent was to inform
The program began 30 years ago as a way to help the public avoidcontact with dangerous chemicals. The law requires companies that makechemicals to submit any information of potential hazards about theirproducts to the EPA. The EPA, in turn, is supposed to make thatinformation available to communities and consumers.
Companies can claim confidentiality if they are worried that theirdisclosures will reveal trade secrets. They have to answer 14questions, including specifics on why disclosing the information wouldharm the company.
EPA administrators then decide which ones are granted confidentiality.
EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said the agency realizes the claims ofconfidentiality "do in some instances limit the public's ability tounderstand the specifics of a particular filing." In those cases, theagency works with the companies to get them to provide moreinformation, which many do, he said.
But the Journal Sentinel examination of the agency's substantial riskprogram found that large information gaps remain. More than half ofthe 32 submissions for March 2004, for example, are still missinginformation necessary for the public to connect the name of thechemical with the information submitted.
Some have no information at all.
Consider File No. 8EHQ-0308-17103A.
The EPA document, filed in March, marks as confidential the names ofthe chemical and the company that makes it. Even the generic class ofchemical has been removed.
What is the information that this unnamed company is submitting aboutthis unnamed chemical so the public can see if it poses a substantialrisk? Anxious consumers have no way of knowing.
"No information is provided in the sanitized copy of the submission,"the EPA Web site entry reads.
Hazardous if inhaled
One report, posted by an unnamed company about an unnamed chemical,shows that if the substance is inhaled, it produces "foamymacrophages" or diseased cells, in the lungs of rats. The report alsoindicates the chemical may cause pulmonary fibrosis -- a deadly andirreversible disease in people.
There is no way to know if this is a chemical coming out of asmokestack in some town or a concern for workers at a factory. Thewrite-up does not say where the chemical is produced or used.
Nor is there any indication in the description of what this chemicalis or how it works.
Another filing in May refers to a study that shows a chemical hadcaused liver abnormalities consistent with cancer. Again, the chemicalname and any identifying information are blacked out.
"The public is being denied useful and sometimes critical informationon chemical-related health and environmental hazards," said Karstadt,the former EPA toxicologist.
Karstadt said the whole point of the program was to provide the publicwith information about dangerous chemicals.
"By law, health and safety data is supposed to be kept open," shesaid.
The EPA's own Web site indicates that studies, letters and accidentreports are intended to be viewed by the public so citizens can"understand potential human health and environmental risks associatedwith exposure to chemical substances."
The EPA posts all reports, redacted or not, on its Web site.
Oversees 28 programs
The law that requires companies to report data on dangerous chemicalsis just one of 10 laws that the EPA is supposed to enforce. The officeoversees 28 programs that address air pollution, water pollution,hazardous waste, toxic substances and pesticides, among other things.
The EPA is an enormous agency with three headquarters in theWashington, D.C. , area and 10 regional offices all over the country.The office that administers the dangerous chemicals program has eightdivisions. The overview describing their responsibilities fills 41pages.
Even Kemery, the spokesman, could not say exactly who or how manypeople decide what information is allowed to be kept confidential. Nordid he know how many claims of confidentiality have been submitted andhow many were granted.
The Environmental Working Group, a watchdog group based in Washington,D.C., reports that less than 1% of the EPA's enforcement andcompliance budget is spent on the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Renee Sharpe, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group,spent more than a year trying to get information from the EPA aboutsome of the chemicals under the program, only to be denied at everyturn.
"It's pretty outrageous, isn't it," she said.
The EPA advises companies on how to keep information confidential. Itis less helpful to consumers.
The information on its Web site is difficult to access. You can't lookup the chemical by name or by the name of the company that makes it.So, you have to go through the filings month by month to see if thereis any information listed on that particular chemical.
There are huge gaps in reporting. The Web site does not have anyinformation on chemicals before 2004. For reasons the EPA does notexplain, the Web site does not include the second half of 2004.
That means there is no information at all about more than 16,000entries.
Enforcement at work
Sometimes, the program works.
In 2004, the EPA fined DuPont de Nemours and Co. $10.25 million fornot reporting data on Teflon. The chemical, used as nonstick coatingin cookware, was found to be toxic and had been linked to birthdefects. The EPA alleged that DuPont had information for more than 20years that the chemical was harmful but did not disclose the risks.
The company agreed to settle and pay the penalty. It was the largestcivil administrative penalty the EPA had ever obtained under anyfederal environmental statute.
Other times the EPA has encouraged companies to withdraw chemicalsfound to be dangerous. In 1999, 3M agreed to phase out its use ofperfluorinated chemicals after discussions with the EPA. Thechemicals, used in furniture coatings and to waterproof clothing, werefound to cause reproductive and developmental toxicity in rats.
Still, critics including Karstadt and Wagner say the agency's policieshave grown too lax.
The real problem with the program "is a complete lack of commitment,"Karstadt said.
Even when companies say they understand the need for transparency,they aren't always willing to provide it, the Journal Sentinel found.
Adam Bickel, manager of the Product Regulatory Center of Expertise atBASF, a major German-based chemical producer, said his companyrecognizes that toxic law is a "key chemical control and chemicalmanagement statute to protect human health and the environment."
BASF is one of the companies that files the most reports to the EPAunder the program. Bickel said his company takes its obligations"seriously and complies with the reporting."
BASF submitted 101 reports to the EPA in 2008. It blacked out thechemical name in 85 of those entries.
To see redacted EPA reports on hazardous chemicals, and to read theJournal Sentinel's ongoing investigation into dangerous chemicals andthe failure of government to regulate them, go to jsonline.com/chemicalfallout
Copyright 2008, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.
==============================Warning Industry Propaganda Below==============================
December 22, 2008
Farmers choose science over serendipity
by OWEN ROBERTS
Farmers figure there's already ample opportunity for bad luck to bitethem in the derriere, without adding more problems to the list.
Naturally occurring woes such as bad weather, pests and disease areenough to make them chronically wring their hands. Mix in jittery,aging and confused consumers, plus an uncertain future with ourbiggest trading partner, and even more reasons arise for theircollective backs to be against the wall.
So when they perceive a threat to science, one of their biggestallies, they come out swinging.
They create efficient and effective infrastructure, such as OntarioAgri-Food Technologies, an organization designed to connect theproducts of science with farmers and processors.
They get behind imaginative initiatives such as Soy 20/20, dedicatedto finding advanced uses for one of Ontario's most lucrative cashcrops, soybeans. They support linkages to areas of great potential foragriculture, especially health and the environment, through avenues tourban Canada such as Mars Landing. And sometimes they bring them alltogether under one roof, such as the Ontario AgriCentre, and the newOntario agri-technology commercialization centre, which opened inGuelph last month.
But their drive to reduce obstacles and open doors to greaterprofitability is never done. As a society, we've decided we're goingto pay as little as possible for food. That's not a very helpfulposition to those we entrust with keeping our plates heaping full withhealthy food. And it means that if farmers are going to stay inbusiness, they have to squeeze as much efficiency as they can out oftheir crops and livestock, while simultaneously taking care of thecountryside --so we can enjoy it, too.
To do that, they turn to science. It gives them, their crops, theiranimals and the landscape a fighting chance. Science provides defenceagainst profit-robbing, debilitating disease and illness. It enhanceshealth-related traits and environmentally friendly productionapproaches that appeal to consumers. It's an intrinsic part of ourdrive to keep food safe.
Farmers have repeatedly chosen science over serendipity, and supportmajor investments in research, such as the research agreement betweenthe Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and theUniversity of Guelph. A study released at this time last year showedthe annual return on investment to Ontario from that agreement is morethan $1.15 billion.
So farmers are touchy when they sense decisions pending that willaffect their access to science. And right now, they're on the ceilingabout the way they think the province's aggressive stance againstpesticides will affect farming.
For the record, the province has said farmers will not be under thesame constraints as consumers, who are losing access to cosmeticpesticides. But everywhere, the same question keeps coming up: ifindeed pesticides are unsafe for flowers, how can they be safe forfood?
Farmers think that's an unfair comparison, and led by the OntarioFederation of Agriculture, they're mounting a campaign to tell theirmembers of Parliament they're not pleased with the government'sdirection.
Farmers say the criteria used to determine the suitability of certainproducts has not been spelled out. They want the province to base itsdecisions about pesticide use on science.
"Ontario farmers depend on science to test our soils for nutrients,our milk for protein content, the effectiveness of ventilation systemsin our livestock buildings, and to keep our animals healthy -- justabout everything that is critical to our success as farmers," says DonMcCabe, a federation vice-president. "The process being used by thegovernment would appear to close the door on new product innovation inOntario, and that's not good for agriculture and that's not good forOntario."
This polarizing argument is bound to grow. The province will need tobe increasingly supportive of agriculture as it looks to farming topull it out of its economic doldrums.
It can't be encouraging and discouraging at the same time. But it alsohas to listen to public sentiment about what consumers consideracceptable.
Once again, the need for discussion, and a greater emphasis oncommunications, is clear.
If there's a middle ground, we'll find it by talking and listening,not shouting from opposite corners.
Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University ofGuelph.
© Copyright 2007 Metroland Media Group Ltd. All rights reserved.
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