Apr. 12, 2007 – This year, Californians will live alongside over half a million pounds of newly hidden toxic waste, thanks to recent changes in the national system for reporting releases of hazardous chemicals.
The Environmental Protection Agencyâ€™s revisions to the federal reporting system known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) dramatically raised the threshold at which industrial facilities must explicitly disclose how much toxic material they release or dispose of.
According to an investigation by the national watchdog organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), the move will obscure data on an estimated nearly 600,000 pounds of dangerous chemicals that would have been exposed under the old rules â€“ in California alone.
EWG released the study to complement a bill recently introduced in the California Assembly that would restore previous toxics-reporting guidelines for the state.
Launched 20 years ago, the TRI itself does not impose limits on pollution. But by simply forcing about 23,000 facilities nationwide to reveal how they handle waste, the TRI has helped community organizations and state officials hold polluters accountable for their environmental impacts through grassroots campaigns and regulatory actions.
The new regulations, issued in December, raise the threshold that triggers detailed reporting on releases of most chemicals covered by the TRI, from 500 to 2,000 pounds per year. Facilities that do not reach the threshold could just list basic information identifying the chemicals released.
The reforms, which the EPA says affect less than one percent of all waste tracked by the TRI nationwide, are aimed at offering polluters "burden relief" by reducing the time and money devoted to complying with environmental regulations.
Analyzing TRI data from 2004, the EWG identified 274 waste-producing California facilities that will benefit from the change, including 52 that would no longer be required to report any details on their handling of toxic waste under the new rules. The data that would disappear, according to the groupâ€™s estimates, include some 12,000 pounds of benzene, a known human carcinogen found in gasoline and used to make drugs and pesticides. More than 26,000 pounds of toluene, a common paint ingredient linked to neurological disorders, would also no longer be documented.
Bill Walker, a vice president of the EWG, called the rule-change "a real blow to the rights of Americans to know what toxic chemicals are being used or released to their neighborhoods."