John Gress/Reuters

Wrong track?
Critics say new regulations will allow industry to report fewer data on chemical use.

EPA Loosens Toxics Reporting

Staff Writer

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized regulations today that relax the reporting requirements for manufacturing plants and other industrial facilities that use toxic chemicals. The agency says the new rules will encourage companies to reduce the amount of dangerous chemicals they emit. But critics are unhappy that the change will allow industry in some cases to conceal exactly how much is used and released.

The Toxic Release Inventory is an EPA database of almost 650 chemicals in commercial use. Started in 1988, the program mandates that any company that has more than 227 kilograms of production-related waste in a year must submit to EPA a detailed report on how much of the chemical was released into the environment, transferred to other companies, and so forth. (Production-related waste is defined as any of the chemical that doesn't go out the door as a product.) The public availability of these data has led many companies to reduce their use in order to prevent bad publicity. If less than 227 kilograms of a chemical is used, however, the company only has to tell EPA its name on a much shorter form.

The final rule relaxes the reporting exemption. The short form will now be acceptable when less than 2268 kilograms of production-related waste are produced (as long as no more than 907 kilograms of that total are released to the environment.) Similarly, the reporting requirements for the most dangerous chemicals, so-called persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) compounds, such as lead and mercury, have also been relaxed.

EPA estimates it will receive more short forms from about a third of the 23,000 facilities that use the toxic chemicals, and that cutting the red tape will save the companies $6 million a year in paperwork. In a press conference, deputy administrator Marcus Peacock said that the lure of the short form will encourage companies to reduce their use and eliminate their emissions of PBT chemicals. "Today's rule makes a good program even better," he said.

Tom Natan of the National Environmental Trust in Washington, D.C., is skeptical. Once a company goes to the short form, he says, they will lose all incentive to reduce their use and emissions, because no one will know exactly how much they're emitting. "The only reason for this rule is to reduce the information being reported," he claims.

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