Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Secret chemicals, still, even after Obama action

A very interesting article today from the Washington Post about the release of information related to new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Reporter Lyndsey Layton rounds up recent events and reports to point out that 20 percent of chemicals registered in the US are secret under federal rules and "critics -- including the Obama administration -- say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to."

Last summer, the EPA ended confidentiality protection for more than 500 chemicals registered under TSCA. Lots of 'em publicized their ingredients elsewhere, like in marketing materials or a website, but claimed confidentiality because they could.

The WaPo article cites another interesting fact to the EPA. 151 chemicals who have confidential status with the federal government are manufactured in quantities of more than a million tons a year. So, uh, there's lots of those ones there. Also 10 of these chemicals are in children's products. What does that mean to a parent? Well, hell if we know. Confidential, remember? Could go either way. Or more precisely, any way.

For the record, chemical manufacturers aren't happy with the higher profile the Obama administration's giving to making policy in this arena. The American Chemistry Council has expressed "strong concerns" about chemical actin plans the EPA's putting out. The trade organization's page about TSCA is here.

California's tried to raise policymaking questions about chemical management with its Green Chemistry Initiative. But green chemistry in the state's been hampered by budget problems and cutbacks. We've been interested in chemical policy for a while, and even if there's little new to say about what the state's doing, we'll keep following the federal developments too.