Right-to-Know Info Shrinks | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: December 19, 2006

Right-to-Know Info Shrinks

EPA says change to TRI will reward cleaner firms; activists, Democrats decry move
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Safety
News Channels: Environmental SCENE

Thousands of industrial facilities across the U.S. will provide far less information than previously required about their annual toxic releases under a rule the Bush Administration unveiled on Dec. 18.

About a third of the 24,000 facilities that file Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reports each year are now eligible to submit less data on one or more chemicals, according to EPA.

Community activists and environmental groups say the change limits the public's right to know about releases of hazardous chemicals into the environment.

EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock says the new rule will encourage companies to become cleaner and more efficient. This is because the changes allow companies that release or dispose of less than 2,000 lb per year of most TRI chemicals to file less information with EPA than they do now.

The change involves the criteria for determining which of two standard TRI forms facilities must fill out and return each year. TRI information gets submitted to EPA on either a long form, called Form R, or a short one, Form A.

Form A requires the name of the facility and the name of the chemical handled. Form R includes this information along with the volume of the substance released and whether the compound is released to air, water, or land.

In the past, a facility could file the short form if it released or disposed of less than 500 lb per year of a chemical listed on TRI, with this exception: Facilities could not use the short form for a substance categorized by EPA as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT).

Under the new rule, facilities can use Form A if they release or dispose of four times as much—2,000 lb—of a chemical that is not classified as PBT.

In addition, facilities can now use the short form to report on PBT substances, such as mercury compounds, they generate in waste. Facilities may do so if they have no releases or disposal of the PBT chemical. As an additional qualification to use the short form, they can recycle or send for hazardous waste treatment no more than 500 lb of the PBT substance.

This change, Peacock says, will encourage companies to become cleaner and reduce releases of PBTs.

Environmental groups decried the Bush Administration's move. "EPA has severely limited the public's right to know," says Thomas E. Natan Jr., research director for the National Environmental Trust. "Critical possible threats will be hidden from view."

Some Democrats in Congress pledged to change the rule. "I will work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to reverse the terrible decision EPA announced today," Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said in a Dec. 18 statement.

An analysis by the National Environmental Trust, an environmental group, says the U.S. military and many large companies—including chemical distributors Univar USA, Chemcentral, and Brenntag—will be the beneficiaries of the TRI reporting change.

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