Secret chemicals are out

I’ve been seeing this issue for days now and I might as well put it out before it disappears (which is probably unlikely!).

A recent report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which spurred the publication of a Washington Post article, talked about 17,000 chemicals that are being kept secret (their names and properties) from the public under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Confidential Business Information (CBI) claims.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EWG said the chemical industry has been allowed to stamp this “trade secret” claim on the identity of two-thirds of all chemicals introduced to the market in the last 27 years.

EWG said this chemical secrecy presents real threats to human health and the environment.

“The 33-year old law that was supposed to ensure that Americans know what chemicals are in use around them, and what health and safety hazards they might pose, has produced a regulatory black hole, a place where information goes in – but much never comes out.” – EWG

In EWG’s analysis, the number of confidential chemicals more than quadrupled – from 261 to 1,105. In July 2009 the EPA released the identity of 530 of these chemicals, lowering the number of these moderate- to high-production volume secret chemicals to 575.

At least 10 of the 151 high volume confidential chemicals produced or imported in amounts greater than 300,000 pounds/year are said to be used in products specifically intended for use by children age 14 or younger.

This issue stems from the incoming plan to overhaul TSCA by the EPA.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) responded back stating that the chemical trade group recognized TSCA’s imperfections. The CBI claims, however, are necessary, ACC said, to protect legitimate commercial interests.

In those cases, the EPA requires that generic identifying information be provided. The EPA is also required to disclose CBI if there are significant risks to health and the environment.

“There are no ‘secret’ chemicals on the market. In those cases where a specific chemical identity has been claimed confidential — in order to protect the significant investment of time, money and human resources that went into the research and development process — the manufacturing and use of that substance must always fully comply with the requirements of the law. ” – ACC

The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) also released a statement last week responding back to the Washington Post article. The trade group noted that out of the 84,000 chemicals in the EPA inventory, only 6,200 chemicals were reported in 2006 as currently in use.

SOCMA agreed to the need for the overhauling of TSCA and that that there is overuse of confidentiality claims. SOCMA, however, pointed out that while specific chemicals may be claimed as confidential, a generic chemical name must be provided and health and safety information cannot be claimed confidential.

It looks like everybody is in agreement to overhaul TSCA, then. The problem it seems is what chemicals they have to consider as potentially harmful. Case in point is the possibility of banning bisphenol-A and pthalates.

I do like the proposal of Environmental Defense Fund’s Richard Denison when it comes to addressing this issue of “secret chemicals.”

Two of his TSCA wish list are for workers to have access to information concerning chemicals to which they could be exposed to during work (I thought they already have that information???), and that federal government, employees at EPA and other agencies charged with the safety assessment of a chemical should have access to all of relevant CBI information.

I’m sure lawyers can come up with something legally tight and binding when it comes to improper disclosures of these information.

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2 Responses to Secret chemicals are out

  1. Rob C 12 January, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Both OSHA’s HazCom standard has requirements that prevent companies from witholding the hazard information about chemicals that are placed in the US market for workers to use. Any well trained MSDS author knows that the hazards must be disclosed on the MSDS and the label of the product, even if one or more of the component’s chemical ID’s is considered a trade secret.

    Likewise, while the EPA will allow a submitter of data to claim chemical ID confidential (with appropriate substantiation), they will not allow the data submitter to claim the actual hazard/effect information as confidential. In fact I have obtained copies of toxicology studies from the EPA on substances whose chemical ID was claimed confidential.

    While there may be cases where companies have abused their trade secret or CBI claims, the hazard communication and regulatory compliance professionals that I deal with will not allow that to happen.

  2. Jim Wilson 12 January, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    It would appear all parties in this discussion are unaware of US Patent Office procedures for dealing with national security classified patent applications, details of this will be found at the attached URL.

    http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/documents/0100_120.htm

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