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When What You Don’t Know Actually Can Hurt

It seems reasonable that if something were to cause us harm, we’d like to know about it—such as a faulty part in a car that would cause the brakes to fail. It’s the way we protect ourselves and our families, by avoiding those things that might cause us harm, or at least being made aware of the risks. Seems logical enough, right?

Unfortunately, some of the companies responsible for divulging this information don’t always use logic as their motivating factor. Case in point: The Toxic Substances Control Act, for all its weaknesses, calls for information about health and safety studies of chemicals used in many everyday products to be made public. For years companies have been claiming that the identity of the chemicals and other basic information in the studies should be kept secret. But recently, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules that would not allow companies to claim these studies as “Confidential Business Information,” which for too long has kept this information out of the public arena.

But industry isn’t going to comply quietly. In a white paper released Jan. 19, the American Chemistry Council makes sweeping assertions about the potential impact of the EPA’s policy, launching a broadside attack on the EPA’s ability to let the public know what these chemicals can do to our bodies and our environment.

The EPA rule is now pending at the White House Office of Management and Budget, and you can bet the ACC is actively pressuring White House officials to relax EPA protections. As a matter of fact, the ACC, American Cleaning Institute, IFRA North America (the fragrance industry), and others met with OMB and EPA officials on January 20—one day after the white paper was released—to discuss this exact issue.

But we’re not going to allow industry to be the only voice OMB and the EPA hear. Earthjustice attorneys are joining our allies in Washington D.C. today to submit our own assessment of why it’s important that Confidential Business Information claims do not disrupt the important flow of information that could protect our health and environment. The EPA has finally recognized that the public needs to know the studies and research conducted on chemicals to which they are routinely exposed. Now we’re going to make sure they don’t forget why this is so important.