EPA Proposal Addresses Abuse of Chemical Trade Secret Claims


Image: Sylvar, Flickr

After the Environmental Working Group exposed a study claiming that chemical manufacturers overuse the trade secret protections provided in current law, the EPA is taking action. Proposed changes to the Inventory Update Reporting (IUR) rules will require manufacturers to substantiate their trade secret claims up front, with their update report. EPA touts the proposed changes as part of their "Actions to help keep children, families safer".First, a little background. The Inventory Update Report (IUR) updates the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) inventory of all chemicals manufactured in the United States. The IUR gives the EPA information about what chemicals are still in commerce, and where and how they are being used. This information is available to the public as well, through various reports.

The original TSCA inventory was taken at the time the TSCA laws were promulgated, back in 1977. In 1986, EPA realized that the original information was outdated, and the IUR was born. Initially, updates were required every four years for all chemicals produced in quantities over 10,000 pounds. This was extended to every five years, and the threshold increased to 25,000 pounds, under the Bush administration. These amendments also increased the data requirements on use of chemicals over a 300,000 pound threshold.

The proposed rule returns the reporting requirement to once every four years, and reduces the threshold requiring use reporting to 25,000 pounds from 300,000 pounds. "Enhanced reporting on the production and use of chemicals will help give the American people greater access to information on the chemicals to which their children and families are exposed every day," said Steve Owens, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. "The proposal being announced today will allow the agency to more effectively and expeditiously identify and address potential chemical risks and improve the information available to the public on chemicals most commonly used in commerce."

Most importantly, the proposal tightens up the controls on trade secret claims. Currently, manufacturers can claim anything trade secret, at will. In case of an audit, the manufacturer must prove that their business interests would be harmed by disclosure of the information, and show that they have taken measures in other areas of their business to protect the information. But it is a not-so-well-kept secret that the USA has the loosest trade secrecy laws of any country that has serious chemical control legislation.

More full-disclosure reporting will enhance the information that groups like EWG can access and process as part of their information campaigns to help consumers understand the chemicals they use every day.

This proposal will be open for public comment upon publication in the Federal Register. The final rule is expected to take effect before the next reporting period, scheduled for June 1 - Sept.30, 2011.

More on Safer Chemicals for Kids and Families:
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Walmart As Government: Screening Chemical Products To Protect Public Health
Avoid These 'Dirty Dozen' Toxic Chemicals
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More on Secret Toxic Chemicals:
Should Manufacturers Disclose Secret Chemical Ingredients?
EWG Off the Books: Industry's Secret Chemicals
REACH for Greener Chemistry

Tags: Chemicals | Corporate Responsibility | EPA

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