The Good and Not-So-Good of EPA’s Chemical Reporting Rule

In August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the chemical reporting rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This long-awaited rule not only provides Americans with the information they deserve about toxic chemicals affecting their communities, it also enables the government to strengthen democracy by proving its investment in the health of its people.

The 243-page final rule incorporates most, but not all, of the provisions from its draft rule, which was released in August 2010. The first notable (and unexpected) change involves the name; the Inventory Update Reporting (IUR) rule became the Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) rule. The name change more accurately reflects the purpose of the rule and the data collected. According to the EPA, "Identifying the next data collection as 'CDR' will make it easier for the public to understand what information is available to them through the data collection."

In addition, the new rule resumes collection of chemical data but increases the frequency of reporting and lowers the threshold for reporting. The next reporting period will take place from Feb. 1 through June 30, 2012. The new rule requires companies to report chemical data every four years instead of every five years. The threshold for reporting processing and use information is being lowered from 300,000 to 100,000 lbs. per year per site for the 2012 submission period. Hence, Americans will have access to timelier and more accurate toxics data than before.

Moreover, beginning with the next submission period in 2012, companies will submit all data electronically. In prior publications, we have explained the benefits of electronic reporting, including how it improves the accuracy of data, how it increases the speed at which data can be uploaded, and how it facilitates public access to information. Electronic reporting will lead to faster processing of data by EPA, which, in turn, will lead to faster identification and analysis of any environmental and health risks of toxic chemicals.

Though the new rule still allows manufacturers to submit a claim for confidentiality (also known as confidential business information claims, or CBI), new requirements aim to limit confidentiality claims that restrict public access to toxics data. The new rule requires companies to provide upfront substantiation for any CBI claim. In the 2006 reporting period, many companies, in order to avoid reporting data, claimed that the required information was confidential and “not readily obtainable.” The new rule eliminates usage of the term, “not readily obtainable,” and replaces it with “not reasonably ascertainable.” In the new rule, companies cannot claim data as confidential when labeled as “not known to or reasonably ascertainable by.”

The not-so good (and disappointing) part of the rule is that these provisions will not go into effect for five years, reflecting a change from the draft IUR rule. The draft IUR rule had required these key provisions to be implemented in the next reporting period. In May, the EPA suspended the 2011 reporting requirement (which was to occur from June to September) until the rule was finalized to give chemical companies more time to prepare between the final rule and the next submission period. It’s unclear why companies need additional time at the expense of Americans' health and right to know.

Here's an example of what this delay means in practice: the threshold for reporting processing and use information is reduced from 100,000 lbs. in 2012 to 25,000 lbs. beginning with the 2016 reporting period. Additionally, starting in 2016, the reporting threshold for specific chemicals that pose a greater health risk will be lowered from 25,000 lbs. to 2,500 lbs. This differs from the EPA’s draft rule, which eliminated the threshold for such substances altogether, illustrating both regulatory delay and a weakening of the protectiveness of the rule itself.

Another change that will not go into effect until 2016 is a requirement that companies report the production volume of chemicals for each year in the reporting period, rather than just one reporting year, as had been done in the past. For example, in 2016, companies will report the production volume for chemicals for each year from 2012 to 2016. For the 2012 submission period, however, companies will only have to report the production volume for 2010. The draft rule had required this provision to be implemented in the next reporting period.

Though the EPA rule is definitely an improvement from the previous rule, does it go far enough in protecting Americans from environment and health risks from chemicals? David Andrews of the Environmental Working Group doesn’t seem to think so, stating:

The fact that EPA does not annually track what chemicals are produced or imported in the United States is a serious failure of modern chemical policy. Basic chemical production and use information is necessary to assess risk to human health and the environment, and EPA has taken some steps in collecting more information. However, the high reporting threshold and infrequent data collection leave EPA and the public with inadequate information to safeguard our children and the environment.

Andrews further notes, “Chemical companies provide quarterly reports on production and sales figures to shareholders. Why shouldn't the public and EPA receive similar reports every year about commonly used chemicals, some of which could pose a serious health risk?”

“The final rule is not perfect,” said Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund, but “once fully implemented, the new reporting program will be a dramatic improvement over the status quo.”

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