EPA pressed for time limits on chemical trade secrets

A coalition of environmental, labor and public health groups is petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to set time limits on information deemed "confidential" by the chemical industry.

Right now, there is no expiration date on confidentiality claims submitted by processors or manufacturers of chemicals to the agency, which the groups argue "threatens" public health.

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The petition filed Thursday by Earthjustice on behalf of the groups says the main problem is chemicals that already circulate the marketplace but remain confidential for decades due to the lack of a "sunset" rule.

The solution, the petition argues, is for the EPA to propose a rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to make trade secrets or "confidential business information" claims, more transparent.

“Secrecy pervades the chemical industry, a secrecy that threatens the health of our families, workers and communities," said Earthjustice's Marianne Engelman Lado.

"Meaningful reform of TSCA to enhance transparency in the chemical industry is long overdue. But even as we await such reform, EPA can and should place a time limit on confidentiality claims, as one step to increase public access to this critical information and empower all of us in making educated decisions about the chemicals we encounter every day," Engelman Lado added.

Groups filing the petition, which include the Environmental Defense Fund, Breast Cancer Fund, and BlueGreen Alliance, say out of roughly 24,000 chemicals that have gone into the market since the 1970's, about 17,000 remain secret.

The question, Engelman Lado says, is how many of those chemicals need to remain confidential due to "intellectual property" concerns versus ones that are no longer real trade secrets, and competitors in the business know about.

These chemicals could be in everyday clothing, plastics, household cleaners and other products.

The groups said access to the information is "critical to people, to families, to mothers and fathers making decisions about where they live and work and the products they buy."

The EPA is currently considering proposing a regulation that would establish "sunsets" on the confidentiality claims and said it would review the petition filed on Thursday.

"EPA continues to support much needed reform of this country’s chemicals management legislation," agency spokeswoman Liz Purchia said. "In the interim, EPA is committed to increasing the public’s access to chemical information and reducing unwarranted claims of confidentiality in chemical reporting."

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