Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reducing State and Local Access to Information on Chemical Hazards

The GAO released a report on the EPA's decision to change the standards for reporting hazardous chemicals. Previously, businesses that manufactured, used, or processed any one of 581 toxic chemicals had to report to the EPA any amount of chemicals that were released into the air, water, or soil. The list of companies and chemicals was compiled each year into the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which can be found on EPA's website, here.

If a company had only a small amount of such chemicals, they did not have to make a report, but filed a separate form that testified that they did not need to provide such information. But in 2006, EPA changed the requirements. Companies could have released four times the amount of toxic chemicals and still be exempt from the reporting requirements. The goal was to reduce EPA's regulatory burden.

The problem? As GAO reported, state and local governments use that information:

States use TRI data, among other things, to design pollution prevention initiatives, to calculate fees on emitting facilities, and to assist in emergency preparedness.

Individual citizens and local advocacy organizations also use TRI data to learn about the type and quantity of toxic chemicals used and released in their communities.
Specifically, 20 states use TRI data to identify the location of chemical hazards, 14 states use TRI data to evaluate facilities' emergency preparedness plans, 31 states compare state TRI data with other databases, and 14 states integrated TRI data with a geographic information system (GIS) or other state mapping capabilities.

The date lost due to the new rules is not insignificant:
EPA’s estimate of the impact in terms of national-level aggregate pounds masks the impact on important toxic chemical information available to many individual communities and states. We analyzed the impact of EPA’s new Form A thresholds at the local level and found they would allow more than 3,500 facilities currently submitting Form R to submit Form A instead. As a result, detailed information about toxic chemical releases and waste management practices from more than 22,000 of the nearly 79,000 Form Rs could no longer be available to communities throughout the country.

We estimated that as many as 3,565 facilities would no longer have to report any specific quantitative information about their chemical releases and other waste management practices to the TRI.
Unless the reporting rules change, state and local preparedness professionals are going to have to
devise new ways to get this information - as today's news from Jacksonville reminds us:

Blast at Fla. Chemical Plant Hurts 13

No comments: