September 12, 2013 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 4Comment

The Environmental Defense Fund and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) both reported last week (here, here) on the Obama Administration’s decision to withdraw two actions being proposed under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).   Chemical manufacturers strongly opposed the measures.  Now, advocates of environmental protection, public health and chemical right-to-know really are exasperated with the sheepish manner the Obama Administration behaves when pressed by powerful interests.

“It seems like a lifetime ago that the Obama Administration came to power and immediately ramped up the rhetoric on tackling the challenges of toxic chemicals,” said EWG president Ken Cook. “This decision is a stunning betrayal by President Obama of the public interest and public health.”

One of the scrapped proposals set out to classify bishenol A, some phthalates, and certain polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) as “chemicals of concern.”  It’s an authority given the EPA under section 5(b)(4) of TSCA.  The provision is really quite tame:

“[It] authorizes the [EPA] Administrator to compile and keep current a list of chemical substances with respect to which the Administrator finds that the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal, or any combination of such activities, presents or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”

Simply compiling a list of chemicals that may present a risk of injury.  That is objectionable to chemical manufacturers?  Really?

To make matters worse, the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) strung along supporters of this “chemicals of concern” listing for more than three years.  I wonder if they eventually realized that the White House’s opinion about disclosure of hazard information, not EPA’s, would prevail.

The other draft proposal addressed the problem of chemical manufacturers making claims that the health and safety information about their compounds is “confidential business information.”  Such claims contradict the letter and spirit of TSCA.

EPA’s proposal would have ensured that its practices were consistent with the law’s emphasis on public disclosure and community right-to-know.  EPA also noted that revisions to its practices would increase transparency and availability of health and safety information on chemicals in commerce to the general public.

This proposal was another one held by OIRA long beyond the 90 day review period stipulated in EO 12866.  It was “under review” by OIRA for nearly two years.  During that time, I count a slew of closed-door meetings about the proposal among OIRA staff, chemical manufacturers and their lobbyists.  Makes me wonder what in the world chemical companies have to hide.  Are the results of their health and safety studies that damning?  I’m left to believe they are.

4 thoughts on “Obama Administration scraps plans for chemical right-to-know

  1. People have a right to know exactly what is in the products they are consuming. I can’t fathom any reason why anyone would think that covering up this information would be in the best interest of Americans. I for one am chemically sensitive and it is a crucial matter for me to have real honest product information. If something is being hidden from us, we need to know it.

  2. United States is a much better position to create an example for other countries, and we hope that Obama-led government will make it do so without anymore delay.

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