Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger
Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
December 21, 2008
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency routinely allows companies to keep new information about their chemicals secret, including compounds that have been shown to cause cancer and respiratory problems, the Journal Sentinel has found.
The newspaper examined more than 2,000 filings in the EPA’s registry of dangerous chemicals for the past three years. In more than half the cases, the EPA agreed to keep the chemical name a secret. In hundreds of other cases, it allowed the company filing the report to keep its name and address confidential.
This is despite a federal law calling for public notice of any new information through the EPA’s program monitoring chemicals that pose substantial risk. The whole idea of the program is to warn the public of newfound dangers.
The EPA’s rules are supposed to allow confidentiality only “under very limited circumstances.”
Legal experts and environmental advocates say the practice of “sanitizing,” or blacking out, this information not only strips vital information from the public, it violates the agency’s own law.
Section 14 of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the foundation for all the EPA’s toxic and chemical regulations, stipulates that chemical producers may not be granted confidentiality when it comes to health and safety data.
“The EPA has chosen to ignore that,” said Wendy Wagner, a law professor at the University of Texas-Austin.
The newspaper’s findings are just the latest example of how EPA administrators more often than not put company interests above the needs of consumers. Over the past 18 months, the Journal Sentinel has reported on numerous EPA programs that bow to corporate pressure, frustrating health and environmental advocates and disregarding the agency’s own mission to inform the public of potentially dangerous chemicals.
The EPA has the authority to fine companies that fail to fully disclose information about dangerous chemicals. And, in at least one instance, it has done so. But critics say the program has been allowed to flounder, and the agency rarely challenges a company’s request for confidentiality.