On dangerous chemicals, federal law lets companies protect their competitiveness over your safety

Today’s Washington Post shines a spotlight on the current state of laws protecting us from dangerous chemicals. Guess what? Not so good. And, the chemical industry has the law on its side — for now. Of course, the chemical industry pushes the limits of the law allowing secrecy and, no doubt, the Bush administration never pushed back:

Although a number of the roughly 17,000 secret chemicals may be harmless, manufacturers have reported in mandatory notices to the government that many pose a “substantial risk” to public health or the environment. In March, for example, more than half of the 65 “substantial risk” reports filed with the Environmental Protection Agency involved secret chemicals.

“You have thousands of chemicals that potentially present risks to health and the environment,” said Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that documented the extent of the secret chemicals through public-records requests from the EPA. “It’s impossible to run an effective regulatory program when so many of these chemicals are secret.”

Of the secret chemicals, 151 are made in quantities of more than 1 million tons a year and 10 are used specifically in children’s products, according to the EPA.

The article reports that the Obama administration wants to change the federal law in this area. There has been some progress:

A week after he arrived at the agency in July, Steve Owens, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, ended confidentiality protection for 530 chemicals. In those cases, manufacturers had claimed secrecy for chemicals they had promoted by name on their Web sites or detailed in trade journals.

“People who were submitting information to the EPA saw that you can claim that virtually anything is confidential and get away with it,” Owens said.

So, the EPA wasn’t really protecting the environment. Right now, there are dangerous, toxic chemicals in circulation. The companies know it. Some people at EPA know it. But, the rest of us don’t. And, the chemical makers want to keep it that way. (Let’s just hope the chemical industry doesn’t get to cut a sweetheart deal with top Obama staffers like the drug industry did. Keep Jim Messina away from the chemical industry lobbyists, please.)


On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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