Today, a broad coalition of health, labor and environmental groups represented by Earthjustice filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting that the agency establish time limits for confidentiality claims for chemical information submitted by industry under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
People are exposed to chemicals in their communities, homes and workplaces every day, but often lack access to critical information about the safety of these chemicals. Under TSCA, industry is given wide latitude to claim such information confidential, making it unavailable to state and local governments, medical professionals, health organizations, research institutions and the general public. EPA currently sets no end date for the protection from disclosure of this information, essentially allowing it to be shrouded in secrecy indefinitely.
General statement from the coalition that submitted the petition: “Access to safety information about the chemicals you encounter everyday is critical to people, to families and to mothers and fathers making decisions about where they live and work and the products they buy. Setting a time limit on secrecy is a no-nonsense solution that guards true trade secrets, but begins protecting those that need this information the most—the families, workers and communities at risk from these chemicals.”
Statement from Earthjustice’s lead counsel on this case, Marianne Engelman Lado: “Secrecy pervades the chemical industry, a secrecy that threatens the health of our families, workers and communities. 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.”
The petition details how current EPA rules impose unnecessary costs on the agency and the public by allowing confidentiality claims that continue indefinitely. The result is excessive and often unwarranted claims made worse by a loophole in EPA regulations, which makes practically all confidentiality protection indefinite by default. Currently, an unmanageable burden falls on the EPA to challenge these claims on a case-by-case basis, instead of requiring industry to ensure its claims remain valid.
The coalition’s petition offers a simple solution, urged by experts for many years, to create a “sunset rule” that would allow true trade secrets to be maintained, but ensure that information no longer warranting protection is made public. Under this solution, an approved confidentiality claim would generally expire after five years unless the industry claimant can prove that continued confidentiality is still necessary.
GROUPS THAT SIGNED THE PETITION
Breast Cancer Fund
Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice
Environmental Defense Fund
New Jersey Work Environment Council
Marianne Engelman Lado, Earthjustice, (212) 845-7376, ext. 7393