Ags Back Public's Right To Know About Toxic Chemicals

A dozen state Attorneys General today called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw proposed regulations that would sharply reduce the amount of information available to the public about toxic chemicals released by industry in communities across the nation.

The Attorneys General submitted detailed written comments challenging the legality of proposed EPA regulations that would scale back the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

New York Attorney General Spitzer said: "The Toxics Release Inventory has been extremely successful in raising public awareness about chemical hazards in communities from coast to coast. Public disclosure has proven to be a strong incentive for polluters to reduce their use of toxic chemicals. This move by EPA appears to be yet another poorly considered notion to appease a few polluting constituents at the expense of a valuable program."

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said: "People have a right to know about how much pollution is being released into our water, air and communities. Requiring industries to report emissions puts the costs of data gathering on the sources rather than the taxpayers."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said: "Reducing the flow of public information will increase the flow of deadly toxic chemicals, like lead and mercury. The public inventory has provided a powerful incentive for polluters to cut use of toxic chemicals, and a potent means of raising public awareness - - key public health and environmental protection goals sacrificed by the EPA. This steep public health compromise will have only bad consequences, for industry as well as the public, by undercutting the best business practices and encouraging the worst."

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said: "There is absolutely no good reason to cut back on toxic release reporting. The cost of reporting these releases is low, and the cost to our citizens of not reporting them is intolerably high."

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said: "The EPA's proposal to reduce public reporting of toxic chemical releases is the definition of heading in the wrong direction. Communities have a right to know if there are releases of PCBs, mercury, lead or other toxic chemicals."

Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran, Jr. said: "The Toxics Release Inventory puts chemical release information in the hands of the public and allows communities to engage in an educated dialogue with their industrial neighbors, and this kind of communication is beneficial to us all."

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said: "The Toxics Release Inventory has resulted in a major reduction of toxic chemical releases across the country. These regulations have proven effective in providing valuable information to the public as well as protecting our environment and the public health, and should not be watered down."

New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly A. Ayotte said: "If EPA were to adopt these rollbacks, New Hampshire would lose critical toxic release information from most companies currently reporting, hindering state and local efforts to protect the public from toxic releases."

New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey said: "EPA&'s proposal undercuts one of the major goals of the TRI program. Instead of empowering citizens to hold polluters accountable for how they manage their toxic chemicals, the citizens will be stripped of one of the most effective tools they have ever had. EPA is denying people the right to know about toxic threats within their community. The negative impact will likely be greatest in low-income areas, where chemical plants are often located."

New Mexico Attorney General Patricia A. Madrid said: "As our comments to EPA point out, the success of the Toxics Release Inventory has been praised by the states, former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, the Sierra Club and chemical giant Monsanto. Monsanto has even stated that compliance with TRI will ultimately result in cost savings and a competitive advantage to the company. Any environmental program that can be praised by such diverse interests as these is well worth saving."

Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell said: "Americans have a right to know what poisons are being released into the environment. Public health considerations should compel more, rather than less disclosure about these hazards. It makes no sense for the EPA to try to keep this critical information from the general public."

Wisconsin Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager said: "The public has a fundamental right to know what hazardous materials their children and families are being exposed to in their communities. No one has the right to hide their pollution, and the federal government has no business helping to cover up this vital information."

After the 1984 deadly release of toxic chemicals at the Union Carbide facility in Bhopal, India, Congress responded by establishing the Toxics Release Inventory. TRI is a federal computerized database that provides information on the type and quantity of toxic chemicals released into the air, water and soil. The bill was signed into law by President Reagan and data has been collected and made available to the public since 1987. Industrial facilities are required to report information to the EPA annually, which is then compiled into a public report.

Disclosure of public information about toxic releases has prompted significant reductions in the release of toxic chemicals across the nation. For example: the Boeing Company reduced its toxic chemical releases by over 82 percent since 1991; Monsanto reduced its toxic air emissions by over 90 percent between 1988 and 1992; and the Eastman Chemical Company of Tennessee has reduced its releases of TRI chemicals by 83 percent since 1988.

EPA is proposing changes that would significantly weaken the TRI in the following ways:

  • Raising the baseline reporting threshold for chemical releases from the current 500 pounds to 5,000 pounds.
  • Reducing the reporting for some of the most dangerous toxic chemicals - - those that are persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic - - a category that includes lead, mercury and PCBs.
  • Considering cutting the requirement to report toxic chemical releases from once a year to once every two years.

The Attorneys General believe that such changes would significantly reduce the amount of toxic chemical release information available to the public. Densely populated neighborhoods are especially at risk. A community in western New York, Tonawanda, is a striking example of the possible effects of these changes. In one Tonawanda neighborhood with 45,000 people, environmental releases of 8,100 pounds of neurotoxic chemicals, 3,100 pounds of chemicals that may cause respiratory problems, 2,300 pounds of chemicals that cause developmental problems and 650 pounds of chemicals that may cause blood disorders could go unreported under the proposed weaker EPA regulation.

The comments to the EPA can be found at www.ag.ny.gov and were written by New York Assistant Attorney General Andrew Frank and Chief Scientist Michael Surgan, Ph.D. of the New York Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau.

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