EPA's Plan Would Allow Industry to Pollute Communities with Dangerous Persistent Chemicals without Notifying the Public
Stolen Inventory (National): The EPA proposal
On September 21, 2005, the EPA announced its intention to roll back reporting requirements for all chemicals under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) [EPA 2005a]. Final comments on this proposal are due on January 13, 2006. The rationale for this proposal is to reduce the reporting burden on industry, although it is notable that outside of EPA, there was no perceptible demand for the reporting changes that were proposed, nor were any presented along with the proposal.
The EPA proposal has two major components:
- Increase the amount of pollution that triggers TRI reporting from 500 to 5,000 pounds per year. Specifically, chemicals released to the environment in amounts between 500 and 5,000 pounds could now be reported using the TRI short Form A, which requires only a statement that a certain amount of the material was handled, and that the amount did not meet the criteria for full reporting.
- Eliminate annual reporting and replace it with reporting every other year.
The first proposal would eliminate reporting of hundreds of chemicals at thousands of facilities across the country. There is no rationale for this change offered other than a reduction in paperwork, yet it is hard to perceive the benefit calculation that accompanied this proposal, given the fact that major reductions in pollution have been derived from the simple act of filling out the forms that accompany TRI submissions.
Currently, if a company handles less than 10,000 pounds of a chemical there is no reporting required under the TRI. If a company handles more than 10,000 pounds but discharges less than 500 pounds of a chemical into the environment, the company can submit a one-page short form called Form A that does not require any information on environmental releases. If a company handles more than 10,000 pounds and discharges more than 500 pounds of a chemical per year, the company must submit a longer form called Form R, which reports detailed emissions, recycling and disposal information. The EPA proposal would raise this threshold for distinction between the less detailed short Form A and the more detailed Form R from 500 to 5,000 pounds of chemical discharges, substantially limiting the amount of pollution reported.
EWG's investigation found that EPA's proposal would have a significant adverse effect on the availability of pollution information for the most hazardous group of chemicals, the persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals. EWG identified five of these compounds in the TRI that EPA has failed to correctly classify as persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals. Given limitations in the data availabe to EWG to conduct this analysis, there are surely more PBTs that are underreported. Under EPA's proposal, reporting for these five PBTs would be eliminated at 123 facilities in 35 states. This loss of information would directly contradict the EPAs stated goal of providing more information on PBT pollution due to the inherent dangers of PBTs, which occur even at low levels of pollution and exposure [EPA 1999a, EPA 1999c, EPA 1999c].
The second proposed change could have a significant adverse effect on the quality and reliability of the data reported under the TRI. Under alternate year reporting, every other year of pollution would not be reported at all. There is clear evidence that pollution varies from year to year based on a number of factors including market demand for products and chemical supply and cost. Eliminating reporting every other year would substantially reduce the reliability of the information that is provided, and leave communities totally in the dark about 50 percent of the pollution in their communities.
Alternate year reporting would also represent another level of secrecy for the PBTs identified by EWG. Not only would 123 facilities in 35 states not have to report at all, the thousands facilities reporting at levels above 5,000 pounds of pollution would only have to report PBT emissions half as often.